New Jersey Prepares to Ban Plastic and Paper Bags

The legislation would be the most comprehensive in the U.S.

September 29, 2020

TRENTON, N.J.—The New Jersey Assembly and Senate has passed a bill that could become the most wide-ranging ban on plastic products and paper bags in the U.S., reports

The bill will place several restrictions on everyday products to reduce the plastic pollution that has inundated New Jersey's beaches, riverfronts and water supplies. The bill, which now goes to Gov. Phil Murphy, has several components:

  • It bans film plastic bags like those found at grocery stores, regardless of thickness, as well as paper bags at supermarkets larger than 2,500 square feet to encourage shoppers to bring their own reusable bags and totes.
  • It bans polystyrene clamshell food containers and other products, such as plates, cups, food trays and utensils.
  • Restaurants would be permitted to provide a plastic straw to a customer upon request one year after the law is signed.  

The New Jersey Senate passed a similar version of the bill in early March, just before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Opponents, including business groups and Republican lawmakers, say the ban will hurt everything from large manufacturers to small businesses such as restaurants, which would have to find more costly alternatives.

Environmental groups were focused on eliminating plastic—not paper bags. But to get a supermarket trade group to support the bill, paper bags also had to be banned. Supermarkets say it would cost more to give customers paper bags in place of plastic. 

“The ban on paper bags is critically important to the success of this legislation,” said Linda Doherty, president of the New Jersey Food Council. “Without a ban, consumers will simply move to paper single-use bags, and we will not address the underlying goal of reducing our reliance on single-use products.”

The ban on plastic and papers bags and foam food products and containers like clam-shell takeout boxes would take effect 18 months after it is signed into law. Any business violating the bill would get a warning on first offense, a fine up to $1,000 for a second offense and a fine of up to $5,000 for a third or subsequent offense.

A 2016 report by NY/NJ Baykeeper estimated that there were almost 166 million pieces of microscopic plastic floating in the waterways of New Jersey and New York.