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We can all make a difference. It doesn’t have to take much effort – just a change of habit. For instance, New Jersey implemented a ban on single-use bags at grocery stores and polyfoam containers starting in May 2022, thanks to Clean Water Action and a coalition of other environmental groups. We all had to remember to bring a reusable bag every time we went to the store. It was a bit inconvenient at first, forgetting the bags at home, running back to the car or buying new ones. But eventually most of us caught on and developed good reusable bag habits. According to the NJ Food Council, each year New Jersey residents will be eliminating 8.4 billion single-use disposable bags from the waste stream.   

Why was this so important and necessary? Our society has become used to disposable products and at times has found it impossible to avoid. Nearly everything we buy is covered in plastic that is promptly thrown away after it’s opened. We need to change this. We can’t expect society to change if we don’t ask for it to change. And it’s hard to ask people to change if they don’t fully appreciate why it is important.  

“Approximately 300 million tonnes of plastic waste (an amount equivalent to the weight of the human population) are produced every year”, UN Environmental Programme. According to a University of Georgia study, approximately 10% of all garbage (30 million tons of plastic) ends up in the ocean - equivalent to dumping one garbage truck of plastic into the sea every minute. In just two years (by 2025), there will be one ton of plastic for every three tons of fish in the ocean. Some of these plastics will be visible and some will have sunk to the ocean floor as micro or nano-plastics. These tiny plastic particles are almost invisible to the eye but will eventually be consumed by aquatic organisms (fish) then us as it moves up the food chain to our dining room table. It is projected that plastic waste will continue to increase every year unless we change our habits. 

These statistics paint a grim picture, but we must first thank ourselves for dramatically reducing the use of single-use plastic bags and then ask ourselves what more we can do. Under the existing NJ Law, we can observe the “straw by request only” policy. If a straw is not needed, ask to hold the straw when serving your beverage. It will reduce plastic pollution and save businesses supply costs and potentially plumbing fees with fewer straws clogging drains.  

Now we hope to advance a New Jersey bill that is similar to what New York has already implemented - a ban on plastic silverware, napkins and individual condiment packages, unless requested.   

As you can see, there are many things that we have done and can do to reduce our use of plastics and single use disposables, but producers of plastic and packaging must also be held accountable for their actions and required to stop the cycle of plastics and pollution. There are better options. Together, we can make even more of a difference. Take action today - tell your legislators to strengthen and support Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) in New Jersey!

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