New State Ban on Plastics, Styrofoam Gains Traction as End for Bags in Stafford Draws Closer

Oct 10, 2018

By Dec. 5, all retailers within Stafford Township borders will be expected to have exhausted their supplies of single-use plastic bags and consumers to have made the necessary adjustments to life without them. After the township council passed Ordinance 2018-06 on Aug. 7, a 20-day hold period was in effect before the law officially went on the books and became enforceable. From there, all retailers had 120 days to make the change from providing plastic bags to completely eliminating them as an option for carryout.

“I haven’t heard of any issues since we passed the ordinance,” said Stafford Township Mayor John Spodofora. “From what I know, a couple of businesses have made the change, but the rest of them still have a couple months to get rid of their plastic bags. After that 120 days is up, any business giving out plastic bags will be fined.”

However, a new bill that recently was moved by the New Jersey Senate Environmental Committee may put the kibosh on all the work Spodofora and the council put into getting Stafford’s plastic bag ban passed – and it likely will expand on the ban, which further will add to the stress of retailers to enact restrictions on their carryout and in-house offerings.

Late last month, Bill S2776 – which would ban all single-use plastic grocery bags, along with Styrofoam food containers and plastic straws – was given the go-ahead by a 4-to-1 vote and delivered to the Senate Appropriations Committee for approval, before ultimately landing in the hands of Senate President Stephen Sweeney for consideration on a full Senate vote. The bill would need to be heard in the Assembly as well, but so far it seems the measure has some traction.

“It’s certainly in a state of flux,” Spodofora said. “There’s no question there’s a battle going on between environmentalists and retailers on how this final bill might look. But my thought is something is going to happen, and unless the new bill exempts towns that have already passed bans, we will be covered under it.”

In addition to a ban on single-use plastic bags, polystyrene foam packaging and straws, the bill calls for a 10-cent fee on paper grocery bags, meaning retailers would have to charge consumers to utilize them. Stafford’s ordinance only includes the ban of all single-use plastic bags, with exceptions, but does not allow for retailers to charge fees for the use of paper bags.

“I’m against the 10-cent fee on paper,” Spodofora said. “I don’t like that at all, and don’t even see where it relates to the real issue with regard to plastics. But that wouldn’t matter if we’re not exempt from the state bill – and, by the way, this reads the state will not exempt anybody.”

Within Stafford’s ordinance, the ban does not include plastic bags used to hold produce, meat, fish or poultry, frozen foods, fresh flowers and deli items; bags used for medical purposes; bags used by pet stores to sell and transport live fish; dry cleaner or door-hanger garment bags; plastic bags sold in packages, such as garbage can or litter box liners; or bags used to deliver food items to customers on food assistance programs.

The state’s bill has similar exceptions, as well as an exception for retailers with 1,000 square feet or less of space. Stafford’s ban doesn’t exempt any retailer in town, regardless of size.

Across the state, more than a dozen towns have developed plastic-bag bans this year, with several others still in the works. In August, Gov. Phil Murphy vetoed a bill that would have imposed a 5-cent fee on plastic bags throughout the state, but that bill also would have exempted towns with existing bans.

This time around, it seems no exemptions will be made, and the new bill on the table is more restrictive than those in other locations across the nation. In California and Hawaii, plastic bags are banned, while New York City recently passed a ban on Styrofoam containers and straws that is scheduled to take effect Jan. 1.

Spodofora said he understands why state officials would push for a statewide ban, even if Stafford’s ban goes by the wayside.

“It’s better to include every town in the state,” he said. “All towns in the state should be treated equally. This is a hard thing to grasp for retailers when one town is doing one thing and another town is doing something else, and it’s difficult for the consumers as well. If the state’s going to go this far with restrictions, I think it’s a good thing to have every town in the state included.”

— David Biggy

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