TRENTON — Three months before New Jersey’s ban on plastic TAKE-OUT bags in retail stores, restaurants and supermarkets takes effect, lawmakers are looking to make changes to exempt food banks and food banks.

The law that takes effect May 4 is expected to have its greatest impact in grocery stores of 2,500 square feet or more, which are also prohibited from providing customers with single-use paper bags. The plastic bag rule applies in restaurants, delicatessens, small grocery stores, convenience stores, food trucks, movie theaters, pharmacies, retail stores – and non-profit organizations.

“The law was never meant to include food banks,” said Assemblyman James Kennedy, D-Union, chairman of the Assembly’s Environment Committee, which voted to move the bill forward. “The purpose of this bill was to help food banks when they needed it most. »

Too early to make changes

Jennifer Coffey, executive director of the Association of New Jersey Environmental Commissions, said the Legislature shouldn’t tinker with a law whose rules aren’t yet in full yet, when the fix could be as simple as giving to food banks reusable bags and specify that they can use paper ones.

“The only place you can find a plastic bag hanging from a fence post shouldn’t be in a low-income community,” Coffey said. “We should get this right. »

John Weber, Mid-Atlantic regional director for the Surfrider Foundation, said cities already banned plastic bags before the state generally tried to accommodate low-income residents by providing reusable bags for free.

“We have a food pantry in our town,” said Weber, who is also a Bradley Beach alderman. “They’ve been running a food pantry for years with no plastic bags at all. »

Provide bags to pantries

Weber says pantries can ask for donations of reusable bags, as they do for food. In addition, the Plastic and Paper Bag Ban Act provides $500,000 to the Clean Communities Fund that can be used to provide reusable bags to people and organizations in need.

“Pantry shouldn’t have to buy bags,” Weber said. “The state can step in and help get this done. »

Assemblyman John McKeon, D-Essex, said his wife worked one day a week at food banks in South Orange and West Orange each and people who received reusable bags usually did not return with them.

“People don’t come back, though, because they’re hungry,” McKeon said. “So I think in everything we’ve accomplished, it’s just such a minor component that it’s not opening the door to a slippery slope. These are the food banks. »

What reusable bags can we sell?

The bill also expanded the definition of what is considered a reusable carryout bag. Environmentalists were suspicious and hadn’t seen the details of the change, which was quickly approved by Michael DeLoreto, a lawyer representing Papier-Mettler, a major maker of plastic bags and paper.

DeLoreto says the company supported the bill “simply because it’s focused on sustainability, reusability, recycled content, responsible and ethical manufacturing and adopting a ‘cradle to cradle’ philosophy when it comes to manufacturing end-of-life process. »

Specifically, permitted carry-out bags that could be sold would be expanded to include those that: are made from low-density polyethylene with a minimum surface density of 120 grams per square meter; are composed of at least 80% post-consumer recycled content; have sewn handles; are capable of carrying 22 pounds a distance of 175 feet for a minimum of 125 uses; and are capable of being recycled into a new product without further modification or chemical treatment.

Michael Symons is the State House Bureau Chief for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at [email protected].

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