N.J. Gov. Murphy to veto 5-cent plastic-bag fee. But could a full ban be coming?

Relax, New Jerseyans. You probably won’t have to pay an extra 5 cents each time you pick up a plastic carryout bag from Wawa.

New Jersey was poised to join a growing number of states tackling the glut of non-recycled, single-use plastic bags that are nearly ubiquitous, blowing into trees, washing down storm drains, ending up on beaches, or ensnaring wildlife.

Not quite yet. Gov. Murphy is set to veto a bill that would impose a 5-cent fee on each carryout bag given out to shoppers at many retail and food outlets. Under the bill, which passed with split support in the Legislature in June, a store would get 1 cent of the fee and the remaining 4 cents would go to a fund to help pay for lead abatement in schools and communities. It had the potential to raise $23 million.

The bill had support from the New Jersey Food Council, a trade group, but drew the ire of environmental groups, who said it fell short of a ban on the bags. Also, the environmental groups said the bill would have overridden plastic-bag bans already passed in some communities, mostly along the Shore.

Representatives of the New Jersey Sierra Club and others learned of the impending veto Thursday during a hearing in Toms River of state Senate and Assembly committees to hear testimony on single-use plastics and plastic waste steps the state might take. The veto is expected to be announced in the coming days.

“In a win for the environment, Gov. Murphy vetoed the bad plastic bag fee bill,” said Jeff Tittel, the Sierra Club’s director. “It is important that Gov. Murphy [veto] this bill because now we can start fresh on a comprehensive statewide ban.”

Tittel said the Sierra Club did not support the bill because fees really won’t stop the use of bags as consumers get used to paying a little extra. Indeed, the bill gave stores the option of incorporating the fee into sale prices, so shoppers might not have even been aware they were paying for the bags.

Instead, the environmental groups, especially the New Jersey Sierra Club, are seeking a more stringent bill that would ban not only the bags but also straws and polystyrene.

That bill, sponsored by State Sen. Bob Smith (D., Middlesex), calls for an outright ban on plastic carryout bags, single-use plastic straws, and foam containers. The ban would apply to retail stores and restaurants. Violators would face a $5,000 fine.

The bill has not come up for a full vote, and it’s unclear whether it would have Murphy’s support.

Nationally, and internationally, momentum has been building to tackle problems posed by plastics in the environment. In 2014, California became the first state to enact a plastic-bag ban. Since then, at least seven states have passed similar legislation. Municipalities in New Jersey have launched a variety of ordinances, which has left the convenience-store, retail, and restaurant industries fearful of facing a panoply of different regulations not only across states but also local borders.

Chains such has Aldi have long charged for plastic bags. This week, Kroger, the nation’s largest supermarket chain, announced it would start phasing out plastic bags, with the goal of being bag-free at all of its nearly 2,800 stores by 2025. And on Thursday, California legislators approved a bill that would prohibit full-service, dine-in restaurants from offering plastic straws to customers unless they are requested, according to the Los Angeles Times.

It’s likely any such ban or fees would be much harder to enact in Pennsylvania, which has a booming natural gas industry. Plastics are produced from natural gas and crude oil. In 2009, Philadelphia attempted to impose a bag ban but failed, and later failed to impose a 25-cent fee. Manufacturers of the bags have fought back in Pennsylvania and, with the support of legislators last year, proposed prohibiting cities, towns, and counties from banning or taxing the bags. Gov. Wolf vetoed that bill.