Monday, December 17, 2012

NJ Bill to Reduce Plastic Bag Pollution and Support Barnegat Bay Passes Committee

NJ Bill to Reduce Plastic Bag Pollution and Support Barnegat Bay Passes Committee

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(Trenton, New Jersey) – Clean Ocean Action testified before the Senate Environment and Energy Committee  in general support of Senate Bill 812, the “Carryout Bag Reduction and Recycling Act,” a bill that would provide financial incentives to reduce the number of paper and plastic carryout bags distributed by stores.  The bill proposes that the funds generated would be directed to help improve water quality in Barnegat Bay and passed in Committee today.  However, COA urged that in the short term, a substantial portion of the proceeds go toward removing massive debris fields in the marine environment caused by Sandy.

The bill, sponsored by Senator Bob Smith, Chairman of the Committee, would require the operator of every convenience store, drugstore, supermarket or retail establishment that provides carryout bags to its customers to implement a $0.05 fee for every carryout bag distributed beginning January 1, 2014.   Additional incentives encourage customers to bring reusable bags.

Twice each year, Clean Ocean Action holds state-wide Beach Sweeps where volunteers from across New Jersey gather at over 70 locations from Cape May to Essex County, recording and tallying data of the amount of debris collected.  According to Clean Ocean Action’s Beach Sweeps report for 2011, 8,245 plastic shopping bags were collected in just two days (by 7,575 volunteers).

Testifying on behalf of COA, Zach McCue, Citizen Action Coordinator said, “While plastic bags may not be the number one item collected during beach sweeps, they still contribute significantly to the unnecessary amount of waste on our shores.  This bill takes action to reduce needless pollution while starting a much needed dialogue on the public’s usage of single use disposable plastic.”

Reducing the use of single use bags with financial incentives will dramatically reduce the consumption of plastic bags, as well as provide resources for reducing pollution. Many business leaders in NJ are already encouraging people to bring their own bags.  A statewide reduction of plastic bag use is necessary to ensure this law is fair and effective.

“According to Beach Sweep data, we have noticed an apparent decline in smoking related debris with the increase of smoking bans in public places,” stated Tavia Danch, Clean Ocean Action Education Coordinator.  “We are hoping to see a similar result with a plastic bag reduction law.  In addition, the purchase of cigarettes includes fees which help fund programs to improve public health.  Similarly, this Bag Reduction law will direct the funds generated by this environmental threat to help improve water quality,” added Danch. 
Clean Ocean Action supports, S812, in general with initial recommendations and may have further suggestions.  For the first 5 years, allowing a substantial portion of the revenues generated by the bill should be used to help municipalities fund the clean-up of marine debris caused by Hurricane Sandy, including communities of the Barnegat Bay.  Much of the debris, including displaced boats, cars, and refrigerators, are hazardous to habitats and wildlife and contain toxins. The price of cleaning shorelines and waterways may cost millions of dollars and funds from S812 could help defray those costs.

Following the initial 5 years, funds should then be directed solely to the Barnegat Bay to improve water quality.  After 10 years from passage, the bill should require a reassessment of funding structures to consider future needs to improve water quality.  Clean Ocean Action is also concerned with the enforceability of the bill, and asked the Committee to put measures in place to assure that the NJDEP will enforce the provisions and produce the reports that are stipulated in the bill.

“We are encouraged that NJ may join the growing efforts in the US and around the world to reduce this harmful, and avoidable source of pollution, waste, and litter, as well as fund important work to improve water quality,” said Cindy Zipf, Executive Director of COA.

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