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January 01, 2019

Number of New Jersey towns banning plastic bags grows in 2019, more poised to join the crowd

Pennsylvania lags behind in this environmental push, though Philadelphia could consider restrictions in the new year

Government Environment
plastic shopping bag laws Juan Pablo Arenas/Pexels.com

A plastic shopping bag

Could 2019 be the beginning of the end for the plastic shopping bag in the Delaware Valley? They won't go completely extinct in the new year, but let's just say shoppers should get in the habit of keeping reusable bags handy.

As of New Year's Day, 19 New Jersey municipalities have passed ordinances to prohibit or restrict stores from providing single-use plastic bags to customers. Some of the laws already have taken effect, others went into effect Jan., 1 and some will be enacted later this year.

These towns – the one's in South Jersey are listed further below – are ahead of the curve in New Jersey, but not by much. Last summer, Gov. Phil Murphy vetoed a bill that would have imposed a 5-cent-per-bag fee on plastic and paper shopping bags. The money raised by the fee would have funded New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection initiatives and programs.

Murphy didn't shoot down the bill because he opposes a plastic bag ban. Rather,  he supports tougher legislation, stating at the time of the veto that plastic bags are a threat to the state's wildlife and the Jersey shore.

"As a society, we must break our dependence on single-use bags when going about our daily routines and instead commit ourselves to sustainable alternatives," Murphy said in a statement released Aug. 27. "Our responsibilities as stewards of the environment and our natural resources demand nothing less. I am committed to taking bold but necessary steps in order to protect our environment and firmly believe that we must look forward and implement programs designed for the future."

New Jersey Sen. Bob Smith, a Democrat from Middlesex County, has introduced legislation that would ban plastic bags, plastic straws and styrofoam containers, and it would impose a 10-cent fee on paper bags at grocery stores.

The bill was approved by a Senate committee but still needs to clear several other votes before Murphy would have the chance to sign it.

In the meantime, local governments in New Jersey have acted on their own to impose restrictions, including several Jersey shore towns. Here are all the ones in South Jersey as reported by NJ.com and other sources.

• Atlantic County: Plastic bags and plastic straws are prohibited in county parks, beginning Aug. 13, 2019. Violators will only be issued warnings during the first year of the ban, but beginning mid-summer fines of up to $500 will be levied.
• Avalon: Beginning on June 1, 2019 – just after Memorial Day Weekend – businesses in Avalon will no longer be permitted to use plastic bags or styrofoam food containers.
• Beach Haven: Ban on plastic bags goes into effect June 2019.
• Brigantine: Ban on plastic bags goes int effect n June 1, 2019. Businesses violating the ordinance can be fined between $5 to $500.
• Harvey Cedars: Implemented a ban on plastic bags that took effect in summer 2018.
• Lambertville: The town across the Delaware River from New Hope, Pennsylvania, prohibits plastic bags, polystyrene foam (styrofoam) containers and plastic straws. The ban was enacted on a voluntary basis on Oct. 1. Then on Jan. 1, 2020, it becomes mandatory for all city businesses.
• Long Beach Township: Ocean County shore town's law prohibiting plastic bags took effect in May 2018.
• Longport: The shore town just north of Ocean City has restricted plastic-bag use since Dec. 2015. Businesses are not allowed to provide bags to customers unless they charge 10 cents per bag.
• Somers Point: Beginning Jan. 7, the town will impose a 5 cent fee on each single-use plastic bags customers take at checkout. The money from the fee is kept by the retailers and restaurants and street vendors are exempt.
• Stafford Township: Located just inland from Long Beach Island, the town's ordinance required businesses to stop providing plastic bags by Dec. 6, 2018.
• Stone Harbor: Effective June 1, 2019, plastic bags, plastic utensils, and polystyrene food containers are prohibited. Retailers violating the law will face fines up to $500.
• Ventnor: Effective in October 2018, businesses must charge a 5 cent fee for each plastic bag. Failure to do so results in a fine of up $100.

Pennsylvania's list of towns restricting plastic is much shorter: just Narbeth, Montgomery County, that's it.

Narberth banned plastic bags and plastic straws with an ordinance passed in October that went into effect in December. Stores can provide bags to customers at a fee of 10 cents per bag and straws may be provided free of charge upon request.

Philadelphia has considered various plastic-bag ban ordinances in the last 10 years, but none have passed. City Councilman Mark Squilla told PlanPhilly last week, he plans to raise the issue again in 2019. Whether that legislation calls for an outright ban or bag fee is to be determined.

Despite how frequently plastic bags are commingled with Philadelphians' other recyclables, the bags cannot be recycled by the city's single-stream municipal recycling program. They tear and get tangled up in the machines that sort the city's recyclable trash.

Don't expect much action on this issue from Harrisburg in 2019. State Sen. Daylin Leach introduced legislation in 2013 to no avail, but in October he said he would introduce legislation again calling for restrictions on plastics, in some form.

Pennsylvania did try to pass a law banning the ban of plastic bags at the municipal level. That bill got all the way to Gov. Tom Wolf who vetoed it in 2017.

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