We are hopeful Gov. Phil Murphy will sign A-3267, a single-use bag initiative, into law. If approved, New Jersey will be recognized as enacting the most impactful disposable bag law in the country and serving as an environmental leader for other states to model.
The New Jersey Food Council supports this legislation because our industry recognizes the need for a balanced solution that benefits the environment while providing retailers with a uniform and standard policy, rather than forcing food stores to comply with a confusing patchwork of municipal ordinances throughout the state.
Moreover, it is critical that the fee applies to both paper and plastic bags. Paper bags have an equally negative environmental impact as their plastic counterparts and are also more expensive for stores and consumers. A fee on paper and plastic provides a balance of incentivizing behavior while still allowing for flexibility for retailers and customers to transition toward reusable bags.
New Jersey’s food retailers are focused on improving sustainability and enhancing solid waste management efforts. Our association is taking a progressive approach to the issue of disposable bag reduction initiatives.
We have learned from our multistate members who operate in jurisdictions with bag fees that a carefully crafted bag fee initiative can have the intended environmental benefit while having little negative impact on retailers or consumers.
That is why NJFC is advocating for this bill, which is modeled after a successful program in Montgomery County, Maryland. Under this program, several of our retail members with numerous stores in Montgomery County reported a 60 percent reduction in disposable bag usage in their stores.
Many NJFC members also operate in Suffolk County, New York, which implemented its own five-cent per disposable bag fee effective January 2018. In the first quarter, one supermarket saved 1 million bags compared to the count the previous year. That means 4 million paper and plastic bags for a single location will be cut out of the solid waste stream this year. Multiplying that by the hundreds of stores in that county, and the reduction of paper and plastic bags is astounding. Just imagine what the initiative will achieve for New Jersey!
Additionally, in 2017, the city of Chicago passed its own ordinance implementing a seven-cent fee on plastic and paper disposable bags, and the city funded a study to measure bag usage before and after enactment of the fee. The study showed a 42 percent drop in disposable bag use one month after enactment. Additionally, consumers increased their use of reusable bags by 20 percent.
We make note of these examples because some environmental groups contend that a fee does not change behavior. A fee, coupled with a strong consumer education campaign, will in fact change behavior, as is proof in Chicago, Suffolk County and Montgomery County. If this bill is enacted, NJFC member companies will develop and implement promotional and educational campaigns, explaining the new law to consumers and encouraging them to bring their own bags.
We welcome the opportunity to partner with the administration and state environmental officials, as well as legislators, mayors, civic organizations and consumer groups, to educate consumers and incentivize the use of reusable bags, and to play a critical role in reducing plastic and paper bags, and protecting our environment and waterways.
Linda Doherty is CEO and president of the New Jersey Food Council, a trade association that represents 1,200 retail food stores, wholesalers, manufacturing and service companies in New Jersey.