Election California Plastic Bag Fight

A plastic bag sits along a roadside in Sacramento, California. Lawmakers in Pennsylvania are considering bills to deal with such litter. — AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File

A new poll finds that New Jersey residents support cutting down on single-use plastic bags, but they get squeamish at the idea of a complete ban.

The Monmouth University survey found that about two in three residents said they supported a plastic bag ban, but many backed away from that zeal when presented with specifics about how it would impact their shopping habits.

When given several options, only 31% of respondents supported a complete ban on single-use plastic bags. Another 27% suggested that consumers should pay a fee for the bags, and 39% stated that stores should be able to continue to give them out for free.

“This is one of the problems with gauging opinion on an issue the public has not really given a lot of thought,” said Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute. “The ultimate goal may seem worthy at first, but support wanes a bit when people consider how it might affect them in its implementation.”

Cities and states have been weighing single-use plastic bag bans as a way to cut down on littering and reduce plastic waste that ends up in waterways, harming marine life. California and Hawaii have banned single-use plastic bags, Delaware’s ban takes effect in 2021, and several localities in New Jersey have already done the same.

Last year Gov. Phil Murphy vetoed legislation that would have put a five-cent fee on in-store plastic bags across the state, saying the bill did not go far enough to “break our dependence on single-use bags.”

In his veto message, Murphy said single-use plastic bags “represent a significant source of the litter that clutters our communities and mars New Jersey’s beautiful shoreline and parks.”

Yet while a vast majority of respondents to the poll agreed that plastics discarded in the ocean pose a serious problem, few remain supportive of an all-out ban.

“I think the real longer-term strategy is to look at the people who make plastics,” said Tony MacDonald, director of the university’s Urban Coast Institute. “How do you make plastics that will degrade? How do you think about upstream management of plastics so we’re not creating as much and putting it into the system?”

New Jersey lawmakers have introduced a bill to ban single-use plastic bags — among other products — but it has not yet had a hearing. 

— (WHYY)

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