Lawmakers Hope a Surcharge on Non-Recyclable Bags Will Curb Their Use

By David Cruz
NJ Today

You don’t have to look very far to see the problem. Plastic bags, as ubiquitous as mosquitoes in summer, everywhere — on the street, in the woods, caught in a tree or collecting in a stream. It’s a growing concern and a Senate committee wants to put a dent in this burgeoning mountain of plastic trash. Sen. Bob Smith (D-17) says a proposed surcharge on non-recyclable plastic and paper bags would prove to be an effective incentive.

“The way the bill works is that if you will bring in your own recyclable bags, you will be rewarded with a nickel for using your own,” explained Smith. “If you decide you wanna use the plastic bags that are in the shop, you pay a nickel.”


Your five-cent reward would be up to the grocery store or supermarket owner, but the five-cent charge would not be. Smith says the money raised from the program would be used for environmental clean-up, much like a similar ordinance passed by the city council in Washington D.C., which Smith said, saw a 40 percent reduction in the use of non-recyclable bags.

“In our case, the money would be dedicated to cleaning up the Barnegat Bay, which is in a state of absolute chaos,” he said.

Smith says the fees could raise potentially more than $20 million a year for the state. Environmentalists generally support the measure and like the fact that it will be used to clean up an important natural resource, but environmentalist Gray Russell of Montclair is skeptical that the state would use all that money for its stated purpose.

“The governor’s office has already taken monies from the clean energy fund, from recycling programs as well, and so I’m not convinced that the money would stay and go towards Barnegat Bay as indicated,” Russell said.

We saw a lot of plastic bags in use outside of one ShopRite. Shoppers we talked to were mostly unaware of the proposed legislation, but were mostly in support of it.

“If they charge me 5 cents and if I get 5 cents back if I bring them in, I’ll bring them back in,” said Yvonne Littlejohn outside the ShopRite in Piscataway.

Bill Ziegenfuss, of Edison, says he’s already using reusable bags. “I use reusable bags right across the street here at Oldie’s,” he said. “I pay one time, 10 cents; they charge for the bag and then when I go, I keep reusing them.”

Peter Fenton of Piscataway says his wife has talked about reusable bags in the past and they will considerate more in the future if the legislation passes.

Lawmakers hope that a nickel here and a nickel there will provide an economic incentive on top of what should already be an environmental one.