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Taxing Plastic and Paper Bags, Senate Bill Could Make Grocery Shopping Green

Environmentalists applaud proposed measure, industry argues it won't do much to reduce litter.

If legislators have their way, when New Jerseyans go shopping in the future, they may pay a small tax if they want their groceries packed in a paper or plastic bag.

In a move to curb plastic bags from littering the landscape and waterways, the Senate Environment and Energy Committee has approved a bill (S-812) that would impose a five-cent surcharge on consumers who fail to bring a reusable bag to their grocery or convenience store.

The move was opposed by manufacturers of plastic bags, who claimed stores already are voluntarily recycling plastic bags, which they and a member of the Senate panel argued constitute a minute portion of the litter that winds up in streets and waterways.

Environmentalists have long advocated such legislation, saying that plastic bags washing up in rivers and the ocean pose a big threat to marine life, such as sea turtles and birds, according to Zach McCue, citizen coordinator for Clean Ocean Action, a group dedicated to protecting coastal waters.

During the organization’s recent beach cleanup program, Clean Ocean Action picked up more than 8,000 plastic bags in just two days, McCue noted. “It will dramatically reduce the consumption of plastic bags,’’ he told the committee of its proposed bill.

Others questioned whether the bill addresses only a small portion of the litter problem.

“To me, a ban on plastic bags is just nipping at the edge,’’ said Sen. Jennifer Beck (R-Monmouth), the only member of the committee not to vote to move the measure forward. Instead, she abstained, adding, “I kind of think we are misguided here.’’

Beck noted the amount of plastic bags swept up in the annual beach cleanups by Clean Ocean Action ranked ninth among trash picked up by the organization

Keith Anderson, director of Washington D.C.’s District of the Department of the Environment, offered another view. Since the district imposed its own surcharge on plastic bags, there has been a 60 percent reduction in the number of bags winding up in its waterways, he said.

Anderson said the 5-cents surcharge on customers who still prefer plastic or paper rather than reusable bags has not proved burdensome to the public, but is still high enough to encourage consumers to use recyclable bags. He added that businesses said it has improved their bottom line by requiring them to buy fewer paper and plastic bags.

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NJ Spotlight is an issue-driven news website that provides critical insight to New Jersey’s communities and businesses. It is non-partisan, independent, policy-centered and community-minded.

Bill Heller December 23, 2012 at 04:01 PM
The statement that most folks do not recycle their plastic bags is true. And if that is the reason to move gradually towards banning them, then the government should move towards banning CFL light bulbs, otherwise known as mercury vapor lamps...mercury being the key word The vast majority of people just throw them out too.
Olivia Dunham December 24, 2012 at 01:12 AM
Exactly. We need to dissolve government and just have a utopia with no rules.
marylou December 24, 2012 at 02:39 PM
Also on the banned list should be styrofoam.It never goes away. I live on a corner lot,aka,a place where people passing by while drinking or eating something purchased at the nearby convenience store to throw the empty containers.I rarely have to pick up a plastic bag.Why not ban these things as well,because they cause more litter than anything else. I use the plastic bags from the supermarket to dispose of garbage and pet waste.Without them,I would have to purchase bags for that purpsose.I say a woman in Shoprire a few weeks ago with reuseable bags to take home her purchases,which included plastic wastebasket liners,tall kitchen can bags and large garbage bags.Real econ-friendly!
Joe December 24, 2012 at 11:04 PM
For God's sake, is there anything the Democrats don't want to tax???? I read that the Democrats in DC want to tax you on the amount of miles you drive. There would be some justice in that though. All of the Obama voters who only thought he would go after the rich - guess what, ain't enough of them so you're next!!!

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