Lawmakers postpone voting on plastic bag ban bill

The New Jersey Senate moved an invoice cutting the state’s single-use bag ban from its agenda Monday after Democratic senators proposed changes that would require a new education component and exempt food banks from the ban for years.

The proposed changes will likely prevent the measure from reaching Gov. Phil Murphy’s desk before the end of the year, said Sen. Bob Smith (D-Middlesex), the bill’s lead sponsor.

Since the bag ban went into effect in May, lawmakers have heard complaints from residents who say they accumulate reusable bags every time they have groceries delivered, an accumulation that threatens to undermine the law’s goal of reducing plastic pollution.

As a solution, the bill, which was due to be heard on Monday, would allow grocers or third-party delivery companies to deliver groceries in boxes, reusable bags or single-use paper bags made with at least 40% recycled materials for three years after passage.

It would also require that grocery stores or delivery services that use reusable bags for home delivery or pickup orders create programs to reuse or recycle those bags.

Meanwhile, Smith suggested people with excess bags give them to charities.

“These bags are more than welcome at a community board, and there’s probably a community board within five miles or less of anyone in New Jersey. We have hundreds of them,” Smith said. “You would be doing a mitzvah – a good deed – by donating it to the good bank.”

Grocery banks are not exempt from the bag ban, although lawmakers have authorized a six-month delay for them to allow for a smooth transition. That grace period ended earlier this month, but the Environmental Protection Department has sent letters to food banks saying it will not seek to enforce the bag ban on them anytime soon, according to MP John McKeon (D-Essex).

McKeon is the main sponsor of the bill in the lower chamber, but he said it’s too early to make changes to the plastic bag ban, noting it only came into effect about six months ago.

“I don’t know if we gave him enough time,” he said on Monday. “The whole point is that there was a commission. There would be some input. I hope I can give him some time to hear from them, to see what they think is the best way for us to go about it.”

The assembly’s version of the bill is not scheduled to be put to a vote, and McKeon said it likely won’t come before an assembly committee until after the start of the new year.

The MP again raised complaints about the food industry, saying they were able to find a solution to food deliveries in the 18 months between Gov. Phil Murphy signing the bag ban and the ban taking effect.

“I would have hoped they already had a solution in the queue, but that wasn’t the case, which is why I want to pull our brakes and put on our thinking caps,” McKeon said, adding that he prefers a solution with reusable crates of some sort .