PENNSYLVANIA, USA — It is the strictest ban on plastics in the country, and it is now in effect for the entire state of New Jersey. The ban on single-use plastic bags went into effect last Wednesday after New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed the law 18 months ago.
The ban means most grocery stores in the Garden State will not be allowed to give out single-use plastic or paper bags. Restaurants and convenience stores may provide single-use paper bags to customers, but not plastic. Styrofoam containers, like the ones used for take-out food, are also banned.
The past week has been an adjustment for shoppers in New Jersey, and if you are headed to the Jersey Shore this summer, you will want to remember the ban is in place before you go to the grocery store. Shoppers are encouraged to bring their own reusable bags, but you will also be able to purchase one at checkout.
Environmental groups are praising the state's measures to protect New Jersey's ecosystems and animals, even ones here in Pennsylvania, including PennEnvironnment, a state-wide nonprofit calling on Pennsylvania lawmakers to tackle the plastic waste issue.
"We know we probably won't get a statewide ban like New Jersey's this year or next, but if we can work at the local level, we can build momentum across the state. We can get as many as these ordinances passed as possible, and really it is a local issue when you think about it," said Faran Savitz, PennEnvironment Zero Waste Advocate. He works directly with plastic bag ban campaigns across the state.
There are six local ordinances on single-use plastic across the state, including in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Environmental advocates here say the more local leaders who step up to take on the issue, the better.
Savitz says his group estimates those six ordinances eliminate somewhere around 700 million plastic bags, which is close to 4,000 tons of plastic pollution that would otherwise go to landfills, incinerators, or end up in the environment.
"If you put plastic in our environment in one place, it's going to pollute everywhere else. It gets from waterway to waterway. It's in our air, so we're breathing it in. It gets in our food, so we eat it," Savitz explained.
He says his group has tested more than 50 rivers, lakes, and streams across the state, including the Lackawanna and Susquehanna Rivers. Microplastics were found in every place tested.
In a statement to Newswatch 16, a spokesperson with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection said it "does not have regulatory authority over the use of plastic bags. However, the DEP is always interested in reviewing proposed policies or regulations that would protect the environment, and a plastic bag ban has that potential."
Check out WNEP’s YouTube channel.