On November 4, 2020, New Jersey enacted P.L. 2020, c. 117 to place restrictions or total elimination of the distribution of plastic straws, paper or plastic single-use carryout bags, and polystyrene food service containers. Whether you’re a proponent, opponent, or indifferent, you may still wonder if the law will have any real impact. Let’s take a brief look.
How big is the plastics problem? Why enact a ban on single-use plastics?
While many environmental organizations have raised awareness, here are just a few US government-cited impacts.
- From US EPA reports, since the creation of plastics in 1960, the US has consumed nearly one billion tons. Of that, the vast majority (about 780 million tons has been sent to landfills, but another 80 million tons (1.6 billion pounds) was simply dumped into the environment. In 2018 alone, over 800,000 tons of US plastic were single-use bags.
- Over 90% of all plastics produced do not biodegrade in nature. Formal studies have shown that:
- Bisphenol A (BPA), a primary plastic constituent, has been detected in 95% of the US population, and
- 17% of marine species ingesting or entangled by plastics are threatened or near-threatened.
What will NJ’s ban do?
The ban will incrementally implement restrictions on several single-use items over the course of the next two and half years, consisting primarily of the following:
- The first component in effect since November 4, 2021, requires establishments to only provide plastic straws upon request.
- The next and most significant component, effective May 4, 2022, prohibits most retailers and restaurants from providing single-use takeout bags, the majority of which are made from plastic and paper.
- By May 4, 2024, the NJ DEP will provisionally prohibit most retailers and restaurants from providing polystyrene foam food containers, typically used for takeout food.
How much will the ban reduce?
Once the takeout bag component is implemented, New Jersey will effectively eliminate 2.43 pounds of plastic and 2.91 pounds of paper per person each year. That results in the following annual reductions at the local, county, and state. This amounts to a total annual reduction of approximately 1.85 billion bags per year (see this article for the basis of estimate).
US Census Pop. 2020
Estimated Annual Reduction of Plastic Takeout Bags (Tons)
Estimated Annual Reduction of Paper
Takeout Bags (Tons)
Hopewell Township, NJ
Hopewell Borough, NJ
Pennington Borough, NJ
Mercer County, NJ
New Jersey State
Assessing the environmental impacts of legislation is often quite difficult given the scarcity of reliable information. Lack of clear and objective data can lead one to conclude the impacts are simply too insignificant to matter, or perhaps lose hope. However, as shown in this article, the annual plastic consumption across the US is near a plateau and may decrease in the near future. More encouraging, the impacts of just this one law in one state will make significant improvements at the local and state levels with benefits felt beyond our borders. Looking forward, we can build on this law to pursue additional reductions at all levels of government and commerce to help improve our quality of life and the health of our environment.
About the Author
Paul Kinney is a Hopewell Township, New Jersey resident with a background in software technology. He is also a member of the Hopewell Green Team and an alternate member of the Hopewell Township Environmental Commission. This article represents his personal views and does not necessarily imply any endorsement by these organizations.
If you would like to learn more, read Paul Kinney's in-depth article.