NJ to Phase Out Straws
By Annabelle Wang | December 7, 2021
Plastic straws are finally slipping out of the New Jersey restaurant scene. As the first phase of a larger state law called the Plastic Pollution Reduction Act (PPRA), restaurants are no longer permitted to offer the harmful cylinders unless customers specifically request them.
Some restaurants, such as Mooyah in Skillman, now offer recyclable paper straws instead. Others, like the tea shop Junbi in Princeton, are still searching for alternatives to help customers continue to enjoy their drinks while minimizing their plastic impact.
The PPRA, which will go into effect in May 2022 and supersede all local ordinances, bans single-use plastic carry-out bags, single-use paper carry-out bags from supermarkets larger than 2,500 square feet, and Styrofoam food service products including containers, meat and vegetable trays, egg cartons, and more. The PPRA is part of a broader effort to eliminate plastic from modern society.
Many of plastic’s dangerous environmental and health effects stem from the way it breaks down. Rather than decompose and return organic matter to the cycle of life, plastic breaks into microplastics which are defined as “chunklets” smaller than 5 millimeters. These miniscule pieces, though seemingly infinitesimal, wreak havoc on living communities by entering food chains and spreading rapidly.
As the Watershed Institute reports, “staff at Raritan Headwaters Association submerged fine-mesh nets in the water at 10 sites along 23 miles of [the South Branch Raritan River]. They collected more than 4,000 bits of plastic the size of a poppy seed or smaller.” The aquatic species who ingest these pieces eventually pass those plastics to top predators like humans. In total, about 8 million tons of plastic end up in Earth’s oceans every year. Scientists estimate that without proper preventative and adaptive measures, plastic pollution will exceed the mass of ocean fish by 2050.
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Meanwhile, plastic photodegradation will release harmful chemicals like BPA and contribute to water and air pollution, ingestion and reproductive issues, and losses to tourism, fishing and shipping industries. However, the widespread use of plastic from grocery shopping to food preparation and transportation makes it difficult to transition away from the detrimental material.
Though plastic straws are the first step in the PPRA, businesses are encouraged not to wait to adjust to the full ban so they can explore successful alternatives in advance of the May 2022 enforcement date. The Watershed Institute promotes individual empowerment to make the transition smoother, including “skipping a straw if you don’t need it and remembering to bring your reusable bags.” Popular reusable alternatives are usually made of hemp fiber, polypropylene or other machinewashable fabric.
They also noted that “many towns are planning education campaigns.” Princeton’s Environmental Commission worked with the Princeton Merchant Association to compile an educational slideshow filled with helpful tips like distributing on-hand boxes for customers to carry groceries and establishing a reuse-and-return system for take-out food.
The Montgomery Environmental Commission plans to collaborate with the Montgomery Business Association and hopefully The Montgomery News to develop an educational campaign. Throughout this shift to a more sustainable world, patience and perseverance will be necessary from our entire community as businesses and consumers work together to find the best reusable solutions.