On November 4th of this year, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed S864 legislation that is being hailed by ocean health advocates as the strongest bill on single-use plastic pollutants nationwide.“This bill is probably the strongest, most comprehensive bill in the nation dealing with plastics and packaging,” said Jeff Tittel, the director of the New Jersey Sierra Club which has been a leading advocate for this legislation. Starting in May 2022, 18 months from the laws enactment, the following rules will take effect across the state:
State lawmakers are hoping these regulations will push consumers to use reusable bags made out of recycled or sustainably sourced materials. Ultimately decreasing the amount of litter that ends up in the state’s waterways, and inevitably the ocean. With New Jersey’s 130 miles of coastline and multiple thriving beach communities, it’s residents have had a front row seat to the proliferation of plastic pollution in the ocean.
US Shoppers in 2018, per the EPA, use more than 100 billion single-use plastic bags every year, 4.4 billion in New Jersey alone. But only between 9 and 10 percent of those used are recycled, roughly 40% is estimated to be litter, much of which eventually ends up in the ocean. Single-use plastic shopping bags take around 20 years to break up in the ocean, releasing harmful chemicals and becoming damaging microplastic particles.
Microplastics have become increasingly prevalent throughout all of the world’s oceans as the amount of plastic waste rises. These materials are unable to be digested by all forms of marine life that ingest them, leading to severe health issues and increase mortality rates for seabirds, turtles, seals, whales, and more. Separate studies conducted by the National Academy of Science and University of Exeter found that 90% of seabirds, and 100% of turtles tested, respectively, had microplastics present in their digestive systems.
This prevalence of microplastics cascades throughout the marine food chain causing millions of deaths each year. Showing up in many popular species sought after by fisherman; it is now contaminating seafood that is being consumed by humans. These plastics are carcinogenic and when ingested can lead to myriad health issues, including higher risks of cancer.
Clean Ocean Action, an advocacy group that also organizes beach cleans, estimates that they have cleaned up 7.2 million pieces of trash from New Jersey beaches, a majority of which they say has been plastic. With this law, New Jersey hopes to limit the root cause of most of that plastic. The state plans to carry the torch in fighting what it’s lawmakers and advocates believe is a major cause of ocean plastic pollution, hoping more coastal states will follow their lead. “Single use-use plastic products are one of the single greatest threats to our oceans, environment, and health” Nancy Pinkin, Assemblywoman for Middlesex county.