It’s now up to Governor Murphy to decide whether to sign a bill passed by the New Jersey legislature that would impose a five-cent fee on plastic and paper shopping bags.
Assemblywoman Valerie Huttle says the goal is to reduce the use of bags that litter the environment and end up in waterways. She says the fee is an incentive to change consumer behavior by encouraging the use of reusable bags.
Environment New Jersey director Doug O’Malley says that’s a good concept.
“But this bill unfortunately preempts cities and towns from putting forward a higher fee and from banning bags outright. And right now we have multiple communities that are having debates on this issue. And this bill is going to cut off those communities at their knees from taking stronger action.”
Mary Ellen Peppard with the New Jersey Food Council says eight towns have enacted their own ordinances and six others are considering taking action.
“Some are bans on plastic. Some bans on paper and plastic. Some are fees. They have different definitions of plastic, different definitions of paper, reusable, compostable, biodegradable, etc.
So, it’s a significant local patchwork. It’s extremely difficult for our members that operate in the hundreds of municipalities throughout New Jersey to deal with.”
Matt Seaholm with the American Progressive Bag Alliance says the bag fee is a regressive tax that could have an impact on restaurants.
“A franchise like McDonalds for instance where you don’t really have an option of whether or not to bring a reusable bag. You also don’t have the option of saying would you like a bag with your fries or burger. You would just have to pay the five cents.”
The legislation calls for one cent of the fee to go to the store operator and four cents to lead abatement programs.
New Jersey Sierra Club director Jeff Tittel is concerned that the money will be diverted into the general fund.
“We’re creating another fee that will just get robbed. I used to be a big believer, clean energy fund, the tire fund, the recycling fund. All these things we created and then just get put into the budget. So the money won’t go where it’s supposed to go.”