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EDITORIAL: Bag reduction thoughtful start to environmental leadership

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This has become the summer of single-use bags, with the ongoing debate surrounding proposed legislation that would place a 5-cent fee on single-use paper and plastic bags throughout the state.

Along with a number of environmental groups across New Jersey, New York and Washington, D.C., I support this legislation, Assembly Bill 3267, now sitting on Gov. Phil Murphy’s desk awaiting action.

The New York Citizens Campaign for the Environment believes this nickel fee “is extremely effective in changing public behavior,” reducing a major source of pollution on the state’s beaches and in its waterways.  

In Washington, where there is a similar initiative in place, the number of plastic bags found in trash traps along the Anacostia River is down a remarkable 75 percent. When asked to comment on the New Jersey proposal, an Anacostia Watershed Society spokesperson said: “Don’t listen to the naysayers … your rivers are going to be cleaner; it’s going to be a boon to your community.”

There’s no doubt that this initiative has a proven track record of success. A comprehensive strategy to curtail both paper and plastic usage is exactly what New Jersey needs to reduce pollution and greenhouse gases in order to achieve our overall goal of eliminating landfill materials.

As we move forward with this initiative, hopefully New Jerseyans will begin to view plastic and paper usage in a whole new way. As recycling markets have changed and as alternative products have come into the market, New Jersey now has the ideal chance to lead the way in ensuring the implementation of policies done correctly.

Let’s use this opportunity in the state’s environmental history to set priorities and achievable goals, much like has been done through Renewable Portfolio Standards for our state’s Energy Master Plan, Sulfur Oxides and Nitrogen Oxides Reduction rules, Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) rules and many other critical environmental rules and regulations that are helping to drive down pollution.

California and other cities have had their hiccups as they implemented various bag programs, some lasting more than 10 years as the policies were corrected over time. Based on these experiences, New Jersey should roll out this proposal by engaging consumers, retailers, commercial and other operations that heavily rely on plastic or paper for a variety of uses.  

Working together, and with a proactive governor, we can create policies and practices that will lead to our mutual goals of making New Jersey cleaner for the next generation and eliminating waste and debris in our landfills, rivers and beaches.    

I ask that the governor sign this bill and make an instant and significant positive impact on our environment. This is a proven, uniform strategy to reduce single-use bags and thus reduce New Jersey’s overall carbon footprint. Moreover, A-3267 will shrink our local solid-waste costs and cut down on litter in our communities.  

With approval of what is the start to a comprehensive and balanced environmental policy, New Jersey is primed to become a model for other states to follow in taking tangible actions against climate change.

Finally, and rightfully, New Jersey can be the proper example of an environmental movement throughout the country. I urge Gov. Murphy to sign this legislation into law.

Adam Zellner is president of New Brunswick-based environmental consultant Greener by Design and former deputy commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.

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