Food banks and charities get extension

Elected officials are giving New Jersey pantries and food banks an extension to comply with a new law that will soon ban single-use plastic bags in most stores and restaurants.

On Friday, Governor Phil Murphy signed the law which grants a six-month extension to charities that distribute meals to comply with the ban on single-use plastic bags. Under the law, the state government will use $600,000 to provide organizations with 500,000 free, reusable carrier bags to distribute to the people they serve. Homeless shelters, soup kitchens and religious institutions that serve meals to low-income people are also included in the expansion.

Friday’s legislation is part of a wider statewide move which prohibits single-use plastic bags and most plastic foams from being distributed or sold by grocery stores, restaurants and eateries.

Plastic bags at grocery store checkout counter.

Environmentalists applauded the change, saying it will reduce the growing problem of plastic pollution in the environment.

“While our statewide bag ban is a monumental step, it is important that major food banks and food pantries have the resources and capacity to transition to renewable bags,” said said Anjuli Ramos-Busot, manager of the New Jersey Sierra Club, in a statement.

New Jersey’s ban will go into effect May 4, when most shoppers will be required to bring their own reusable carrier bags to shop or purchase reusable bags.

Scientists and environmentalists are alarmed at the growing risks of plastic pollution, especially its habit of shattering into microscopic pieces that are now found throughout the environment.

“In the not too distant future, we will have more plastic in the ocean by weight than fish,” said Amy Goldsmith, director of the New Jersey chapter of Clean water actionan environmental organization.

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“Plastic actually doesn’t degrade. It just makes smaller and smaller pieces of plastic,” she said. “Plastic never goes away… Fish eat plastic. Wildlife and fish eventually starve to death because their stomachs fill with plastic.”

Scientists are only just beginning to understand how these tiny pieces of plastic affect human health.

On Friday, Dutch scientists announced that for the first time, microplastics had been discovered in human blood, according to USA TODAY. Scientists have yet to know what, if any, impacts plastics have on the human body.

plastic bags

Goldsmith said New Jerseyans can’t afford to wait to act.

“Many people depend on our oceans, bays, lakes and rivers for food,” she said.

New Jersey has already launched its campaign against single-use plastics. Last November, a ban on the distribution of plastic straws in fast food chains, restaurants and other restaurants came into force. Straws remain available on request.

“New Jersey has one of the toughest plastic bans in the country that will help fight plastics,” said Sierra Club’s Ramos-Busot. “We understand that this transition to renewable bags will be difficult for everyone at first, but collectively we can and will adapt. Our environment has been smothered by plastic bags, microplastics and polystyrene for far too long.”

Amanda Oglesby is from Ocean County and covers the townships of Brick, Barnegat and Lacey as well as the environment. She has worked for the press for more than a decade. Reach her at @OglesbyAPP, aoglesby@gannettnj.com or 732-557-5701.

Bryce K. Locke