As climate change continues to worsen and our oceans fill with more plastic each day, New Jersey government officials have taken action to combat the problem. Their solution? Ban plastic bags. The new solution could bring a lot of positive change if New Jersey citizens commit to the initiative.
Beginning on May 4, 2022, New Jersey is ending the use of single-use plastic bags along with polystyrene foam carryout containers for both retail stores and food service businesses, according to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. The law also discourages businesses from handing out plastic straws unless specifically requested. New Jersey grocery stores have already started to warn their patrons of the coming change with postings around stores.
Madison and Chatham both enacted the plastic bag ban in March of 2020, making them a bit more progressive compared to the rest of the state. According to the Borough of Madison website, their goal with the policy is to “reduce litter, protect the environment, and remove hard-to-recycle bags from our waste system.” In reality, a plastic bag ban is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to fighting climate change, but it is a fantastic start.
Drew students have been accustomed to these policies while grocery shopping at the local Stop and Shop, where they have implemented up-charges based on how many paper bags are used for the past two years. It’s time that the rest of the state follows suit.
According to the Conservation Law Foundation, plastic bag production releases highly-toxic chemicals that negatively impact the health of surrounding communities – communities that are notoriously underserved with high poverty rates. In New Jersey specifically, Dover is home to the plastic packaging company DanaPoly Inc. and according to Data USA, the poverty rate in Dover runs at 10%. The pollution coming from the factory can only put the community at a further disadvantage.
The plastic bags end up in places where sea animals usually get their food which can be fatal for marine life, according to EMagazine. Plastic waste has sparked outrage amongst marine life lovers on social media by sharing photos of beached whales with bellies full of plastic and a viral video of a fisherman pulling a plastic straw out of a sea turtle’s nose. On top of this, Consumer Reports website says when plastic bags are incinerated after use, they release greenhouse gasses and toxic chemicals into the atmosphere.
For proponents of keeping single-use bags in stores, paper bags seem like the obvious alternative, but they come with their own set of drawbacks. Although paper bags do not result in as many greenhouse gas emissions in their production process, they are extremely resource-intensive to produce, according to BBC News.This is because growing trees requires vast amounts of water and fertilizer and cutting down trees for this purpose can also be harmful to ecosystems. Recycled paper bags, on the other hand, are far more appealing from an environmental standpoint since their production does not consist of cutting down trees, and requires much less energy. The plus side to paper bag usage is that they can be easily recycled or composted while their plastic bag counterparts can take up to 1,000 years to break down.
The most viable option for carrying our groceries out of the store and helping the environment is reusable tote bags. Some argue that producing reusable bags is more energy-intensive than producing plastic, but a 2018 life-cycle study conducted by the Danish Ministry of Environment and Food found that a reusable bag only needs 52 uses before it brings the carbon footprint of using the equivalent in single-use plastic bags to neutral. Although this number sounds steep, using the same reusable bag for a weekly trip to the grocery store for a year can accomplish this. Not to mention the diverse uses of reusable bags, from packing things to go home for a long weekend to bringing lunch to a friend.
Overall, New Jersey’s plastic bag ban can lead to a major positive impact on our country’s ecosystem. Although it will be a bit of an adjustment, Drew students have had ample time to adjust thanks to the forward-thinking of the Madison Borough policy. The entire state following in the footsteps of townships like Madison and Chatham can bring better conditions to our state and lessen litter and plastic pollution. New Jersey needs to accept the change and work for the greater good of our environment.