A bill that would have given New Jersey some of the toughest statewide limits on plastic and paper bags and polystyrene foam foodservice containers in the U.S. narrowly failed in the state Legislature Jan. 13.
The measure had passed the Senate on a 21-14 vote earlier Jan. 13, the last day of the legislative session, but then stalled in the state Assembly. Local media said it fell victim to a dispute over how to treat paper bags.
The Senate measure would have prohibited stores and foodservice outlets from giving out or selling single-use plastic bags, as well as prohibited grocery stores from giving away or selling single-use paper bags. The bans would have been phased in over two years.
The legislation also called for setting up a state council to look broadly at plastic packaging and waste, noting large increases in plastic production and plastic litter in the environment.
One media report said that while lawmakers did not publicly discuss why the legislation stalled, it said the plastic limits were popular but splits emerged over paper bags.
Both legislative chambers are controlled by Democrats, but NorthJersey.com reported that leaders of the Assembly and Gov. Phil Murphy, also a Democrat, did not favor banning paper bags.
The report also suggested that the plastic bill had become victim to other political squabbles between Murphy and state Senate President Steve Sweeney.
Supporters of the plastic restrictions said they would bring them back for consideration again, acknowledging that they would have to start over in the legislative process.
Environment New Jersey said the plastic bill would lead its list of priorities in the upcoming session, and a lobbyist for the Association of New Jersey Environmental Commissions said Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin wants to finish the legislation early in the new session.
The Senate measure would have also prohibited expanded polystyrene foam foodservice products like food containers, plates and cups within two years, although it would have exempted trays for raw meat and for prepackaged food.
Supporters said dozens of towns in New Jersey have passed their own restrictions on plastic packaging and urged lawmakers to make a statewide policy.
"We will redouble our efforts to get this comprehensive plastic bag ban passed in the next session," Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, said in a statement given to InsiderNJ.com. "Thirty-eight towns in New Jersey already have plastic bans in effect, 18 have passed ordinances that are not yet in effect, and dozens more are in the process. The towns are leading, now the Assembly must lead and ban plastics."
The Senate measure also would have required restaurants to give out plastic straws only upon request.
The Senate plan did, however, note the environmental impacts of paper bags. It said that single-use paper bags "use as much or more energy" than single-use plastic bags and should also be banned.
The legislation also would have set up a Plastics Advisory Council in the state's Department of Environmental Protection to look at reducing single-use plastic and plastic waste.
The council would be tasked, within two years, with making broad recommendations on alternatives to single-use plastics, ways to increase recycling and recycled content of plastic products, boosting markets for post-consumer plastic and studying the health impacts of single-use plastic and microplastic.
The 15 member plastics council body would include senior officials in the state government overseeing environmental protection and heath, two academics with expertise in plastic waste, four members from environmental groups, four members from stores and restaurants, and one member each from the EPS foam industry, the recycling industry and local government.