NJ recycling: What plastics you can recycle and which ones you can’t
Reporter Scott Fallon talks to Environmental Consultant Wayne DeFeo about which plastics can be recycled and which plastics you can’t
Anne-Marie Caruso, NorthJersey.com
The days of getting a plastic straw automatically with any drink are over in New Jersey starting Thursday.
In a bid to cut down on plastic pollution in the state, all coffee shops, restaurants, convenience stores and any other business that sells food can only give out plastic straws to customers who request them.
The new regulation is the first of several measures that are among the nation’s most wide-ranging ban on disposable plastic products. On May 4, 2022, all carry-out plastic bags will be banned along with polystyrene cups, plates, takeout cartons and other food containers made of the material often called Styrofoam. More details are below.
Related: NJ’s plastic bag ban: What’s exempt, when it begins and more big questions answered
Plastic straws and stirrers are among the most common pieces of trash picked up every year by thousands of volunteers in Clean Ocean Action’s beach cleanups. More than 10,000 were picked up in one day last year, ranking it fifth among all types of trash collected from Sandy Hook to Cape May. Plastic straws are not recyclable.
“Straws are not going to disappear overnight from our sweeps,” said Cindy Zipf, executive director of Clean Ocean Action, a nonprofit environmental advocacy group. “It’s something that’s going to take time for both restaurants and customers, but we’ll have a healthier planet, healthier oceans and healthier people at the end of it.”
Lawmakers had originally proposed to ban plastic straws outright but changed the bill after advocates for those with disabilities objected. Some people who have a physical disability require a plastic straw to drink a beverage.
Legislators changed the bill to allow straws upon request with no proof of a disability required and also required businesses to keep an adequate supply on hand. They also exempted straws that already come prepackaged with products, such as juice boxes.
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Among those businesses that have to comply starting Thursday is Cedar Bean’s Coffee Joint in Cedar Grove, which has been making plastic and paper straws available for its customers. Plastic will now go under the counter unless a customer asks for one, said Dave Fletcher, owner of the cafe.
“The problem is there aren’t a lot of good alternatives,” he said. “The complaint with paper straws is the taste. It has a terrible mouth-feel.”
Fletcher said it’s good the regulations come in mid-autumn, when demand for iced drinks and straws drop. He expects most customers to simply drink out of the side of a cup, as he prefers.
“As a small-business owner, I try to be Switzerland with these things,” he said. “You want to accommodate your customers, but you also have to be mindful of the impact plastic has on everything.”
It is unclear exactly who will be enforcing the plastic straw regulation. But the first offense is a warning, second is subject to a $1,000 fine and third can be a fine of up to $5,000.
Some towns, including Monmouth Beach, have been ahead of the curve by banning plastic products that often wind up on their dunes.
“The businesses realized that plastic straws are a problem in the environment,” Mayor David F. Stickle said. “They were all a little apprehensive about what [alternative] products were out there and what was available, but every one of them jumped right on board. No issues, no complaints.”
As a result, restaurants in town have converted to using paper, bamboo or reusable straws, he said.
“I think everybody should do it,” said the mayor. “To be honest with you, it’s been very beneficial to the town. Our beach is a lot cleaner.”
Even with the new regulations, changing habits is no easy feat, Zipf said.
“Even if you say ‘No straws, please,’ three out of five times the straws will come in your order anyway,” she said. “It’s such an automatic response. We’re hopeful a new habit will form.”
Lawmakers delayed bans on very specific types of plastic products. They include:
There are many plastic bag exemptions. They include:
Scott Fallon has covered the COVID-19 pandemic since its onset in March 2020. To get unlimited access to the latest news about the pandemic’s impact on New Jersey, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.
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