Adapting to a Sustainable Mindset

The recent push for sustainability has been noticeable, to say the least. No matter where you come from, you have undoubtedly gotten your plastic, single-use straws from a fast food drive through along with your food wrapped in a similar single-use, thin plastic bag. In fact, the space of single-use plastics in our lives is probably larger than we can imagine. Even the most sustainably minded of us have certainly been caught unprepared without our reusable totes, faced with the decision to either buy a new bag or struggle out of the store with armfuls of items. There is nothing more uncomfortable than being forced to decide between your moral decision to not use single-use straws and using a paper straw that will undoubtedly be soggy by the time you finish your drink. The shift towards sustainability will not be a simple one, and getting used to the new way of things will be a hard journey, but we are here to give you the inside scoop on the latest change to single-use plastic legislation.

The reach towards sustainability is a wonderful new direction for the world population, and New Jersey is doing its part to help in the efforts. Recently, the New Jersey state legislature has voted for new bans on single use plastics, namely plastic bags. Last year, on September 24, 2020–the specific rules set forth by the state government were voted in and made overtly known to the public. The law includes a total ban on single use plastic in all stores (grocery, convenience, liquor, drug or retail stores), as well as food service businesses. These businesses are now banned from using single-use plastic bags. However, grocery stores larger than 2,500 square feet are also banned from providing customers with single-use paper bags and are encouraged to provide customers with reusable tote options instead. The bill also defines what a reusable bag can be, which must be made from polypropylene, PET nonwoven, nylon, cloth, hemp, or other washable fabric with stitched handles. It should also be designed for multiple reuses.

More specifically for food services, the bill addresses straws and foam boxes. Food services are to be banned from using polystyrene foam food service items like takeaway boxes. Polystyrene food service items are defined as any item that is made entirely or partly of polystyrene. Certain products are allowed to stay until May 4, 2024 and these include portion cups of two or less ounces, disposable soda spoons, pre-packaged food, and butchery trays for raw meat, poultry, and fish. For straws, the rule is a bit more concise. Stores are only able to provide these straws on customer request and must keep a stock of them on hand. Prepackaged drinks are allowed to keep their straws.

This bill will not be in effect until May 4, 2022. When it does come into effect, store owners will be faced with daily fines if the rules are not followed.

So, you may want to consider investing in some reusable bags, or a cutlery set to keep in your car’s glove box because soon businesses will no longer be fulfilling that role unless requested to do so. It’s best to have reusable backups just in case the restaurant you’ve frequented suddenly does not provide straws unless specifically asked to and you weren’t aware.

However, it is important to remember that, while at times inconvenient, this is a change that will have a lasting positive impact. Here on campus, the rules are already in effect to a certain extent. In the dining hall, there are more cardboard take-out boxes, plates, and bowls being handed out in comparison to last year when more Styrofoam was being used, and our plastic bags are being replaced with paper bags that can be composted or recycled. Besides this, many students already use canvas bags to carry food and other items around campus. Obviously, the change to reusable options will be an adjustment and will take some getting used to, but it is important to remember that it is for the betterment of the state and the environment.