Clean Ocean Action

Single-Use Plastics


Plastics are a human-created boon and bane. While the benefits are many, the wasteful use of plastics, particularly for single-use items, has become a plague and is an ecosystem crisis.

  • Plastics are now found throughout world and are accumulating in all marine ecosystems.
  • Plastic marine litter eventually breaks down into smaller bits and ultimately becomes microplastics.
  • If plastic pollution continues at the current rate, there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050.
  • Plastic pollution is killing, maiming, and harming marine life through ingestion or entanglement.
  • Plastic is now found in some seafood and sea salt.  The long-term human health risks are real.

Plastic Pollution in New Jersey


 Data from Clean Ocean Action’s Annual Beach Sweeps provide a snap-shot of the scope of the problem in New Jersey.




% change from previous year

Plastic Bags



24% increase

Plastic Straws



16% increase

Plastic Cups



28% increase

Foam Food Containers



49% increase

Foam Pieces



14% increase

Foam Cups



 8% decrease


Long After Use, Plastic is Forever

Most of the plastic used and consumed is used once. However, these products never completely go away – they can last for generations long after their single use.

  • According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the estimated decomposition rates of plastic debris found on coasts are: 
    • Foamed plastic cups: 50 years 
    • Plastic beverage holder: 400 years
    • Plastic bottle: 450 years
    • Fishing line: 600 years
    • Plastic grocery bag: 10 to 20 years

The Effect Plastics Have on the Environment

All our plastic waste is causing significant harm to ocean life:

  • For decades cases of sea birds feeding plastic food to chicks, and whales and sea turtles harmed or killed by plastic bags, have made the news. More recently, coral reefs have been found smothered by plastic bags and turtles have been found with straws jammed into their nostrils.
  • Marne debris is negatively affecting more than 800 animal species.
  • When plastic ingestion occurs, it blocks the digestive tract, gets lodged in animals’ windpipes cutting airflow and causing suffocation, or fills the stomach, resulting in malnutrition, starvation and potentially death.
  • Entanglement of species in marine debris is a global problem affecting at least 200 species. It can cause decreased swimming ability, disruption in feeding, life-threatening injuries, and death.  


Microplastics are tiny pieces of plastic ranging in size from 5mm (a grain of rice) to microscopic.  They have been found in every corner of the planet—from NJ beaches to Arctic sea ice and from farm fields to urban air.  Sources are many, and include industrial pellets and clothes dryer vents.  Importantly, marine plastic is breaking down into microplastics and are being absorbed into the food chain.




State & Municipal Solutions to the Plastic Plague

Ever increasing public opposition to the harm caused by plastic, especially single-use items, is resulting in actions to limit plastic consumption and waste to protect our coastal and marine ecosystems.

International Single-Use Plastics Regulations

  • In a 571-53 vote, the EU approved a measure to ban specific single use plastic items in 2018.
    • Under the proposed directive, items such as plastic straws, cotton swabs, disposable plastic plates and cutlery would be banned by 2021, and 90% of plastic bottle recycled by 2025.
  • Canada aims to ban single-use plastics by 2020
    • The government said it would undertake scientific analysis before determining which plastic products to ban as early as 2021. But Mr. Trudeau said Canada expected to follow the example of the European Union.
    • The ban will likely include plastic bags, straws, cutlery, plates, and stir sticks. 

Statewide Efforts

  • California - passed statewide legislation banning the sale of plastic bags in 2016. In 2018 California become the first state to adopt a statewide ban on plastic straws
  • Connecticut - passed statewide legislation with phase-out fee on plastic bags and eventual ban in 2021
  • Hawaii - in 2015, Hawaii became the first state to ban plastic bags through a de facto ban
  • Maine - become the first state to ban single-use food and drink containers made from polystyrene foam, effective 2021
  • Maryland - banned all polystyrene foam food packaging, effective July 2020
  • New Jersey – pending legislation to ban the sale of single-use plastic bags, plastic straws and polystyrene food containers
  • New York - became the third state in the country to ban single-use plastic bags, effective March 2020
  • Oregon - passed statewide legislation banning single-use plastic bags with a five-cent fee on paper nd reusable bags as well as a ban on plastic straws except upon request only, effective January 2020
  • Vermont - passed statewide legislation to ban single-use plastic bags, polystyrene food service products, plastic beverage stirrers, and single-use plastic straws upon request, effective July 2020

American Cities Ban Plastics

  • San Francisco, CA - Banned plastic bags in 2007
  • Los Angeles County - Banned plastic bags in November 2010; includes a 10-cents fee on paper bags
  • Portland, OR - Banned plastic bags in summer 2011
  • Edmonds, WA - Banned plastic bags in 2009; law was implemented in August 2010
  • Bellingham, WA - Banned plastic bags in 2011
  • Washington, DC - Implemented a 5-cents fee on paper and plastic bags in 2009
  • Boston, MA – Banned plastic bags in 2017; includes five-cents fee on paper
  • Seattle, WA – Banned plastic bags in 2012, and in July of 2018 also banned single-use plastic straws and utensils
  • New York City, NY – Banned polystyrene food containers in January 2019

New Jersey Municipal Single-Use Plastics Ordinances

See the full list here!

  • New Jersey48 ordinances have been passed addressing single-use plastics.

New Jersey Single-Use Plastic Reduction Ordinances


48 total plastic ordinances (that COA knows of)

  • 11 plastic bag bans

  • 2 plastic bag fees – no fee on paper 

  • 2 paper/plastic fees

  • 14 hybrid ordinances – bans plastic, places fee on paper

  • 19 multi-faceted ordinances (straws, bags, polystyrene)

  • At least 10 pending ordinances (drafted ordinance / under consideration)



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