Win for environment; Murphy's vetoes plastic fee bill

27 Aug 2018 | 01:13

By Jeff Tittel
In a win for the environment, Governor Murphy vetoed the bad plastic bag fee bill. Sometimes, when a Governor vetoes an environmental bill, its actually good for the environment. This bag fee bill would have undermined all efforts in reducing plastic waste. The reason is because fees do not work as well as a ban. Plastics are a menace and an existential threat to our drinking water, beaches, and wildlife. We are finding millions of plastic particles in our rivers and hundreds of pounds along our Jersey Shore beaches. This has become a serious public health and environmental problem and it is critical that we find the most effective solution to reduce our plastic waste. The preemption in the fee bill would have blocked the grassroots movement going on in cities and towns working to ban plastics. This is why it is important that Governor Murphy vetoed this bill because now towns can keep moving forward passing bans until we get a statewide bill.
A bag fee bill would have not even come close to getting rid of our plastic mess and it is critical that Governor Murphy saw that. We are finding millions of plastic particles in our rivers and hundreds of pounds along our Jersey Shore beaches. Microplastic has been found near our water supply intakes by the Passaic and Raritan River. This is a huge human health risk because we can be literally drinking plastic that have toxins in them. Animals like fish and birds ingest them and can enter our food chain. Animals, especially birds, get strangled and suffocated by plastic bags.
Plastic bags are made from ethaline, a chemical leftover from fracking. If we cut down on plastic bags, we can also cut down on fossil fuel use and pipelines. On the other hand, if we cut down on fracking, we can reduce our plastic bag use. Plastic bags have been known to clog storm drains and fill up detention basins which affects our water quality.
We need the legislature to not only work on a ban for plastic bags, but polystyrene and plastic straws too. Polystyrene is dangerous to human health because it contains carcinogenic chemicals such as benzene and styrene. It has been found in women’s breast milk and is harmful to the environment because they are not recyclable, and they do not degrade, ending up as litter. Plastic straws have become a dominate waste on our Jersey Shore beaches. Last year, beach sweeps in New Jersey found that more than 80% of their trash is plastic and found an increase in plastic straw waste by 59%. Plastic straws cannot be easily recycled. They end up in our landfills and pollute our oceans and beaches.
The reason we didn’t support this bill is because fees don’t work as well as bans. We’ve seen a 90% reduction in plastic in states and communities that have passed bans. In areas with fees, people get used to paying a little extra for the fee and plastic reduction backslides. For example, in Montgomery County there was an initial reduction in plastic waste after they placed a fee on but then saw a backslide by 2-3% after each year. Washington, D.C’s plastic bag fee program has had a district wide 7 cent fee on plastic bags since 2010 but plastic reduction only dropped by 30 percent.
Murphy’s veto of the plastic fee bill is also a victory for towns and cities who are working towards their own ban on plastics. Towns like Lambertville, Montclair, and Edison now won’t have to rush to get a plastic bag ban to beat the bad plastic bag fee bill. Waterfront cities like Jersey City and Hoboken have already banned plastic bags. Businesses and restaurants in New Jersey are already working to reduce their plastic waste by using paper bags and paper straws. The plastic bag bandwagon can keep on trucking in New Jersey now that the plastic fee bill is toast.
Now that the bag fee bill is dead, we can start working towards a ban that will reduce New Jersey’s plastic waste. Bans on plastic have proven to be effective. For example, Los Angeles County saw a 94 percent reduction in single-use bags after implementing a ban. If we want to curb our plastic footprint, New Jersey needs to move forward with a comprehensive ban like S.2776(Smith) and passed by the end of the year. We would like Senator Smith’s bill to mirror California’s single use plastic ban by adding a 10 cent fee on paper and reusable bag and have a better enforcement mechanism in place. We thank Governor Murphy for his leadership on this veto. Since we have become a use once and throwaway society New Jersey needs to start looking into ways to combat this plastic pollution and a state-wide ban on these products is the best way to start.
Tittel is director of the New Jersey Sierra Club