Each year over 2.5 million tons of plastic and paper bags end up in our oceans and landfills. Less than three percent of plastic bags and twenty percent of paper bags are recycled. Now the Legislature is moving forward with important legislation to combat this pollution problem by providing incentives to use reusable bags.
The "Carryout Bag Reduction and Recycling Act" encourages retailers to offer a 5 cent rebate to customers who bring their own bags, promoting increased recycling. The bill would impose a fee of 5 cents for every paper or plastic bag used, penalizing those who pollute.
The money raised from the fee goes towards protecting Barnegat Bay. This bill could generate as much as $20 million a year to retrofit stormwater basins and clean up the Bay, which is especially important following Hurricane Sandy.
Consumers pay $18-30 per person in hidden costs to cover the cost of “free” bags provided by retailers. This bill will help reduce those costs while cutting back our waste stream and use of fossil fuel products, better protecting our environment and wildlife, and raising funds to clean up Barnegat Bay.
In 2011 plastic and paper bags ranked in the top ten for trash picked up during the Ocean Conservancy’s Coastal Cleanup.
Plastic bags are not only an eye sore, but can cause devastating impacts to marine life. Research has found 100,000 marine animals and 1 million birds die each year from plastics, whether it is ingestion or entanglement. When marine animals ingest these plastics they can enter the food chain putting human health at risk because of the toxins in the plastic.
Plastic bags also affect water quality by clogging storm drains and filling up detention basins. The plastic as it breaks down creates a thin film that coats detention basins and seepage pits and prevents the stormwater from absorbing back into the ground, creating more flooding. They pollute our beaches, parks, and roadways or sit in our landfills where it takes up to 1000 years for the bags to break down.
The production of plastic bag requires both petroleum and natural gas byproducts. With soaring gas prices and the dangers of fracking this “use once and toss it” approach is not worth the resources it takes to produce, especially when the United States is estimated to go through close to 100 billion plastic bags a year.
About 35% of landfill waste is comprised of paper products, including paper bags. 14 million trees are cut down each year to make paper bags. The manufacturing of paper bags still requires some virgin pulp, which has stronger fibers, and bags can only be recycled 5-6 times before the fibers become too weak.
This waste increases our property taxes. It costs between $65-$125 a ton to place garbage in the landfill. We export 1.8 million tons of waste to other states each year, along with the air pollution from 100,000 trucks. New Jersey is the number 2 waste exporter in the country, using our tax money to export that trash each year. Reducing the amount of waste we produce is good for the environment and our wallets by helping to stabilize or lower property taxes.
The industry and retailers says they recycle the bags but undercover reports have found many of them just get thrown out. Even when the bags are reused to carry lunches or to line household garbage pails they still end up in our landfills eventually.
Many people in urban areas tend to walk to stores and already bring along backpacks, reusable bags, and carts when they shop. This bill will help them save money with a rebate for bringing those bags.
In San Francisco plastic bag use was reduced by 78% after a fee was instituted. Washington DC saw a 60% reduction of plastic bag litter in the Anacostia River following the implementation of a 5 cent fee. Plastic bag usage there dropped from 22.5 million a month to 3 million after the fee came into effect. Ireland’s bag ban fee reduced plastic bag usage by 90% in the first year and raised over $18 million. In the United States, 61 cities have banned or put a fee on non-reusable bags. Hawaii’s three counties have banned plastic bags, creating a statewide ban and 14 states have pending legislation on plastic and paper bags.
New Jersey has a long history of being a national leader on environmental issues and must step up again on plastic and paper bag pollution. We need the Legislature to pass and the Governor to sign the "Carryout Bag Reduction and Recycling Act" as quickly as possible to encourage the use of reusable bags and reduce our waste stream.