Why is New Jersey banning plastic bags? There are 4.4 billion reasons


4.4 billion.

That’s the number New Jersey shoppers should keep in mind, environmentalists say, if they’re concerned about whether they’ll be able to buy them on April 4.

It is estimated that New Jersey residents use 4.4 billion plastic bags annually.

This article is part 3 of a week-long New Jersey 101.5 series on New Jersey’s upcoming ban on plastic bags, paper bags, and Styrofoam products.

“We don’t need a plastic bag for the toothpaste you buy at the pharmacy,” said Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey. “What we literally use for 15 minutes shouldn’t be a scourge on our environment or our communities for generations.”

Signed into law by Gov. Phil Murphy in November 2020, New Jersey’s law is considered one of the strongest in the nation. O’Malley said the move his group and others have been working towards for years is part of a global movement to reduce everyone’s dependency on plastic.

“You’ll find plastic bags blown down the street, you’ll find them in trees, you’ll find them in waterways,” O’Malley said.

Over a 10-year period ending in 2019, volunteers from Long Branch-based Clean Ocean Action collected nearly 92,000 plastic grocery bags off New Jersey beaches. And for all those years, plastic grocery bags have been part of the group’s “dirty dozen” (the 12 items most commonly found on beach sweepers).

But eliminating a source of garbage or reducing an eyesore isn’t the only goal of New Jersey law.

“Plastic bags are particularly harmful to certain types of marine life, particularly when they are in the marine environment,” said Alison Jones, Watershed program manager for Clean Ocean Action. “It poses a threat of choking, of course. They can also pose a threat of entanglement.”

Sea turtle eat plastic bag ocean pollution concept

Getty Images/iStockphoto

Plastic bags do not biodegrade. Instead, over time, they break down into much smaller fragments — also known as microplastics, which have been on environmentalists’ radar for several years.

“They’ve been found in finfish, they’ve been found in shellfish, they’ve been found in freshwater, they’ve been found in the oceans, and they’ve been found in both animals and humans,” said Sylvia Kay, zero waste coordinator for the Sierra Club NJ.

A study published on March 24 the first detection of microplastics in human blood.

“It’s a general problem, not just a coastal problem,” Kay said.

Kay called New Jersey’s plastic bag ban a “low-hanging fruit.”

“This is a simple step forward to reduce our plastic use,” she said. “We must learn to reduce and reuse.”

They are preparing for the bag ban, retailers too. Day 4 of this series focuses on what to expect in stores starting May 4th or before May 4th.

Dino Flammia is a reporter for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at [email protected]

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