Food Council’s Doherty leading effort to ban paper, plastic bags in favor of reusable options

The idea seemed fair. And a good first step. Charge consumers 5 cents for one-time use of paper and plastic bags, and they’ll learn over time the benefits of bringing their own reusable bags to the grocery store.

That’s how Linda Doherty, the CEO and president of the New Jersey Food Council, felt.

“We said, ‘Let’s start slowly, because it’s all about changing consumer behavior,’” she told ROI-NJ. “If you start with a fee, people aren’t going to want to pay it.”

It turns out, if you start with just a fee, the governor won’t get behind the movement. It feels counterintuitive to the progressive agenda of Phil Murphy, but the governor vetoed the 5-cent bill in August 2018 for one simple reason: It didn’t go far enough.

Doherty understands the scenario now. And has started a campaign — Choose to Reuse — that’s more stringent. In fact, it’s the strictest ban proposed anywhere.

She pitched it Tuesday afternoon to a group of more than 100 officials at the annual New Jersey League of Municipalities convention in Atlantic City.

The resolution, which her group is proposing with New Jersey Clean Communities, is calling for a total ban of all plastic — and paper — bags. Paper, she said, should not be avoided in a ban. Its carbon footprint (one use, two max) is far worse than plastic.

(To read the resolution, scroll down.)

A sign promoting the campaign at the League of Municipalities convention.

That’s why the Food Council and Clean Communities already have begun a messaging and awareness campaign, hoping people will think about reusable bags when they pick up their holiday meals or holiday gifts. She’s hoping the Legislature will remember, too, and take up the issue during its lame-duck session.

Doherty feels a statewide ban will make it easier on municipal leaders, who she feels wants to act but are being bombarded with various proposals.

“Having one statewide regulation will make it easier on our members who have multiple locations in multiple areas,” she said.

Better yet: It will be good for the environment.

Doherty said any type of regulation will have an impact, noting existing bans in other states have led to an 80% reduction in one-time-use bags.

This impact is far-reaching. Recyclables companies say the inclusion of one-time-use plastic bags (which people often store their recyclables in) is the leading problem at recycling plants. Simply put, they “gum up” the conveyor belts and sorting stations.

Doherty said the key to the potential regulation is the rules around it. The size of the bags allowed (and thus the cost) could be an issue.

“If you’re on a fixed income and forget your bags and need to buy them at the store, $1 a bag could be devastating,” she said.

Her group is pushing for a smaller, sturdy version — one that can be used 125 times before it needs to be recycled and costs just 10 cents.

“We haven’t seen the exact language yet,” she said. “We haven’t seen the definition of what a bag is — and if they’re not going to allow for these smaller bags, that’s going to be problematic.”

Getting the members of the Food Council behind the movement has not been problematic.

“We were really disappointed when the governor vetoed the bill last year,” she said. “But we promised we would come back and we’d come back with a more robust program and this is what my board has decided to do.”

The reason, she said, is simple.

“We’re a progressive group here, and our customers are calling for action on single-use bags,” she said. “We just don’t want it on plastic, we want it on paper as well. No one in the country has come out on the position to ban both.”