Plastics & Single-Use Foodware Ordinance - Activist Toolkit

This toolkit provides steps and resources to pass a local single-use plastics/Styrofoam ordinance in your town. For more information or assistance, fill out the form below or contact Maura Toomey at


The Problem

We dispose of 100 billion plastic bags every year in the U.S., over 4 billion of which are used and disposed of in New Jersey. These bags are a threat to our health and environment, harming marine life, clogging storm drains, and releasing toxins into our air and water when incinerated and landfilled.

Packaging waste (mainly from plastics) accounts for 30% of American household trash and is on the rise. It’s polluting the marine environment at a runaway pace - 80% of ocean litter comes from land based sources. If we continue on this trajectory of global plastic production and consumption, there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish by 2050 (in weight). The estimated 6 trillion pieces of plastic choking our ocean injures and kills fish and wildlife through ingestion and entanglement and bio- accumulate up the food chain, threatening our health.

According to a 2011 Clean Water Action Study, 67% of litter in commercial streets is comprised of single use disposable food and beverage packaging. Clean-up efforts once these materials escape their intended collection systems are not a long term solution, but rather, a short term fix. Plastic pollution in our oceans is also only part of the problem. Even when trash stays within the intended waste stream, it still pollutes our communities and environment. Just because it is "managed" and out of sight does not mean the problem is solved. Landfills and incinerators are hazardous to our health and environment, and to dispose of our waste in these facilities costs our cities and municipalities millions of dollars a year.

Communities near trash incinerators, like Newark, NJ, risk higher exposure to toxins in the air, including dioxin and mercury, and ultra-fine particles that are linked to cancers, asthma, and other health issues. The Newark incinerator burns about half of New York City's solid waste and that of several North Jersey towns. Unless we prevent plastic packaging at the source, or point of generation, it’s “management” will continue to be costly and disproportionately impact low income and communities of color where these waste facilities are typically located.

We’re up against a powerful plastics industry. Its trade associations (e.g. American Chemical Council) spend millions of dollars a year trying to defeat state legislation and local ordinances to limit use of plastics and foam products, and convince policymakers and public that the answer is to recycle more. Yet National Geographic reported (December 2018) that only 9% of plastics are being recycled.

Solution: Bans and Fees

Education and voluntary actions are great, but not as effective in changing consumer behavior as bans and fees. Over 20 towns in NJ have passed local ordinances to limit single-use plastics. A bill (A4330/S2776) has been proposed in the NJ Legislature to ban carry-out plastic bags, Styrofoam food containers, and single-use plastic straws, as well as put a fee on paper carry-out bags. As the bill makes its way through the State Legislature, we need to build support and momentum by ratifying more local ordinances that restrict the use of single-use plastics.


NJ_rethink disposable_plastic_foodware_adobe spark

NJ is Ditching Single-Use Plastic, Town by Town! (as of January 2019)


  • Beach Haven
  • Belmar
  • Bradley Beach
  • Brigantine
  • Harvey Cedars
  • Jersey City
  • Point Pleasant
  • Stafford Township


  • Longport - 10 cents on plastic and paper

  • Somers Point - 5 cent fee on all carry-out bags

  • Teaneck - 5 cents on plastic, also urges state to pass statewide law

  • Ventnor - 5 cents on plastic

Hybrids and other single-use plastics

  • Avalon - ban on plastic bags, polystyrene foam, non-compostable food packaging
  • Lambertville - ban on plastic bags, single-use plastic straws, and polystyrene foam
  • Long Beach - ban on plastic, fee on paper
  • Hoboken - ban on plastic, fee on paper
  • Monmouth Beach - ban on plastic bags, single-use plastic straws, and polystyrene foam
  • Stone Harbor


  • Edison
  • Hopewell Borough


  • Atlantic Highlands
  • Brick
  • Cranford
  • East Brunswick
  • Lavalette
  • Little Egg Harbor
  • Montclair
  • Newark
  • Maplewood
  • Red Bank
  • Ridgewood
  • Tinton Falls
  • Tuckerton

State Legislation Pending

S2776/A4330 - Ban on plastics bags and Styrofoam, requires food businesses provide straws on demand, and places a 10 cent fee for paper bags.


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Types of Local Ordinances

Ban-Fee Hybrid for Single-use Carryout Bags

These ordinances place a ban on single-use plastic carryout bags and fee on paper bags. Since the ultimate goal of a local bag ordinance is to increase reusable bag use, banning plastic and charging for paper is the most effective to change consumer habits. Both plastic and paper bags are harmful to the environment and use valuable resources (trees, water, energy, etc.) to manufacture and transport. Paper bags are more expensive than plastic bags.

In the “ban” section of a ban-fee hybrid ordinance, clearly define “single-use plastic carryout bag” and “reusable carryout bag” to make sure your ordinance does not include a loophole allowing merchants to give out or sell thicker plastic bags.

In the “fee” section of the ordinance, the fee on paper and reusable bags should be at least 10 cents with no limitation for merchants to charge more. At the local level, the fee must go to merchants to offset the extra costs of paper and reusable bags.

The ban-fee should apply to all stores with no exemptions for small retailers. Since compost facilities are not accessible in NJ, make sure your ordinance does not make allowances for bags labeled “compostable” or “biodegradable”.

Sample Ban-Fee Hybrid Ordinance from Hoboken, NJ

Ban on Polystyrene Foam / “Styrofoam” Food Containers

When banning polystyrene foam take-out food and beverage containers, make sure that your ordinance clearly defines environmentally acceptable alternatives. Any replacement products should be locally recyclable and/or create incentives for reusables. Since large scale industrial composting facilities are not readily accessible in New Jersey, alternatives should not include expensive “compostable” products that currently end up in landfills and incinerators.

Restaurant businesses should keep in mind that using fewer disposable packaging products has an additional benefit of cost savings. While some alternatives to Styrofoam food containers are more expensive, Clean Water Action’s ReThink Disposable program has several recommendations for waste prevention practices that can help offset the additional costs.

Sample Polystyrene Foam Ordinance from New York City

Ban on Single-use Plastic Straws

Banning single-use plastic straws is another way to eliminate a huge source of plastic. Restaurant businesses wishing to continue serving straws may switch to paper straws. Another option is to pass an ordinance that requires food service businesses to follow a “by request” only policy. Make sure you include provisions for people who need access to serviceable straws for medical reasons or due to a disability.

Disposable-Free Dining Ordinance

Berkeley, California passed the most ambitious local policy on single-use disposables and the first of its kind in the country. This ordinance requires that food consumed on-site be served in reusable, durable tableware, with specific wrappers still allowed and a with a provision for exemptions under certain circumstances. It also requires food businesses to charge for disposable take-away foodware to encourage customers to bring their own reusable cups and containers. The ordinance also requires all disposable foodware to be free of certain toxins, and to be recyclable in the city’s recycling program. If composting is available, disposable foodware may also be compostable.

Single-Use Food Serviceware Ordinance from Berkeley

Zero Waste Events Ordinance

Since large events can produce a lot of waste, you also have the option of introducing a policy setting requirements for reuse of food service containers and utensils, waste prevention, and recycling at public events or large venues.

Sample Zero Waste Events Ordinance from San José, see Section 9.10.1445

New Jersey Sanitation Code

The NJ Sanitation Code does not prevent customers from bringing in their own reusable containers for taking home left overs, take out orders, and/or use at self service buffets so long as the container that is brought into the establishment does not go into the food preparation area. There is no liability to the business. Incentives that encourage reusables would save money and the planet.


Waste_garbage_can_overflowing_ReThink DisposableFacts About Plastics, Bags, Styrofoam

Plastic Production and Climate Change

  • Plastics are made from fossil fuels and the increase in cheap plastic packaging is driven by the fracking boom and cheap natural gas in the U.S. The plastics industry predicts a 400% increase in plastic production in the next 30 years. 
  • Many plastics release the greenhouse gases methane and ethylene.

Ocean Pollution

  • By weight, there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050. 
  • Straws are one of the top ten marine debris items found in beach cleanups.
  • There is 100 times more plastic in the ocean today than 10 years ago.
  • 80% of ocean plastic pollution originates on land as street litter, garbage blown out of landfills, or illegally dumped trash.

Polystyrene / Styrofoam

  • Styrofoam contains the chemical styrene, which has been linked to cancer, vision and hearing loss, and other negative health impacts. 
  • In 1986, the EPA released a report that listed the polystyrene manufacturing process as the fifth largest creator of hazardous waste. Fifty-seven chemical byproducts are released during its manufacturing process, polluting the nearby air, land, water, and communities.

Plastic Bags Waste Taxpayer Dollars

  • California state government spends roughly $428 million annually to control litter before it reaches state waters. Between 8 and 25 percent of that cost is attributable to plastic bag waste.
  • Managing the 24 billion bags that end up in landfills costs $25 million dollars each year.

Recycling Plastic Bags And Polystyrene Is Costly And Ineffective

  • According to the Clean Air Council, recycling one ton of plastic bags costs $4,000 while the recycled product can be sold for only $32.
  • Shopping bags jam expensive machinery at recycling plants and contaminate the recycling stream, increasing costs.
  • Only about 20 locations in New Jersey accept polystyrene for drop-off, but most will not accept food containers.
  • Recyclers make their money by weight. Polystyrene is so lightweight that curbside pickup of polystyrene is not profitable to do and must be clean of all contaminants.

Bans Work

  • Large stores covered by Los Angeles County’s ban on plastic bags reduced overall single use bag usage by 95%, which includes a 30% reduction in paper bag usage. 
  • San Jose reduced plastic bag litter by 89% in the storm drain system, 60% in the creeks and rivers, and 59% in city streets and neighborhoods.

Economic Advantages for Businesses

  • Food service businesses spend between $0.25 and $0.85 per meal on disposable foodware. Businesses that have participated in ReThink Disposable, Clean Water Fund’s voluntary waste prevention program, saved $1,000 to $22,000 annually by minimizing single-use disposables.

Opponents to Plastics Ordinances

  • Grocery store industry groups may oppose a plastic bag ban unless merchants are allowed to keep fees generated from charging for paper bags.
  • Oil, gas, and chemical companies and plastics manufacturers oppose plastics ordinances and have spent millions of dollars on lawsuits, lobbying, and campaigning in opposition. Fracked gas is largely used to produce plastics.
  • New Jersey is home to two Novolex manufacturing facilities, a large plastic bag manufacturer. These facilities will not experience negative impacts of plastics reduction ordinances, as some of their representatives have argued, since these locations only manufacture can liners and paper bags, which will not be significantly affected by these kinds of ordinances.


NJ_ReThink Disposable_Maura and Allie_New Jersey_Montclair_Photo Courtesy DRURY THORPPassing a Local Ordinance

Create a Team

  • Building strength in numbers is important to gaining traction and support for your local ordinance. Talk to individuals, students and civic groups in your community. Invite them to join your cause.
  • Once you have a team working together, determine the goals and focus of your ordinance.
  • Meet regularly. Develop communication system (emails, facebook, phone tree, meetings, conference calls, skype). Keep everyone involved throughout process.
  • Engage Environmental Commission or Green Team. Earn Sustainable Jersey points.

Educate Yourself

  • Study examples of successful single-use plastics/foam ordinances and basic facts that support your goals.
  • Talk to others who are working on or have already passed ordinances.
  • Reach out to retailers and business leaders with environmental values that are likely to support the ordinance.
  • Become familiar with your local government bodies and how they work (town council, environmental commission and green team).
  • Determine which government body and members of each can serve as an ally in getting the ordinance passed with the town council having the final vote.
  • Write up a draft or modify an existing ordinance.
  • Host a community forum and fun events to educate others and get their feedback. Include residents, school groups, local businesses, and business associations.

Campaign to Win

  • Be visible through community presentations, letters to the editor, tabling events, traditional news outlets, facebook live and other social media.
  • Generate supportive public statements from leaders in the community, business owners, and officials.
  • Consider launching a petition drive to demonstrate broad support of the ordinance.
  • Meet one on one with elected officials one on one, seek their support and address their questions.
  • Ask a sympathetic city official to sponsor your ordinance. Get their suggestions on content and process.
  • Regularly attend town council meetings and speak up at the public comment portion.
  • Get the ordinance on the agenda. Organize a large turnout for the meeting and prepare a number of people to make a short statement in support of the ordinance. Present petitions/letters if you have any.
  • Invite the media to attend all appropriate events, hearings, etc.

Ensure Successful Implementation

  • Once your ordinance has passed, make sure steps are taken to ensure implementation and enforcement. This requires ongoing monitoring, publicizing successes, educating public and businesses, as well as trouble shooting as needed.
  • Share your success and lessons learned with others. Encourage people you know in others towns to pass a similar ordinance.


NJ_Plastic Waste_Newsletter Image from Emily

Sample Letters

To Retailers

Dear _______,

As one of _______________’s customers, I am writing to ask you to change your store policies regarding single-use plastic bags, (Styrofoam and straws if applicable) and discontinue the use of disposable plastic bags and charge for paper bags. I am working with Clean Water Action to urge our municipal government for a local ordinance to reduce plastic bags. I hope we have your support. 

Waste and litter from single-use plastics and other disposable products are creating an environmental crisis. We dispose of 100 billion plastic bags every year in the U.S., over 4 billion of which are used and disposed of in New Jersey. These bags are a threat to our health and environment, clogging storm drains, and releasing toxins into our air and water when incinerated and landfilled. Consumption of disposable plastics is causing irreparable damage to our marine life and oceans. Plastic pieces on the ocean surface now outnumber sea life 6 to 1. By 2050, there will be more plastics (by weight) than fish. 

We need to prevent waste from being generated in the first place. Nearly 20 NJ towns as well as cities, states and countries (India, Canada, UK) around the world have already done so through ordinance or legislation. Reducing plastic bags (Styrofoam and straws if applicable) helps the environment but also saves retailers and consumers money. Go to for business testimonials and case studies. Review the enclosed cost saving sheet. I hope you will support and join our efforts in town. I will follow up in about a week to see if you would like to sign on as a community green business leader. Thank you for your time, I am looking forward to speaking with you.


Name, address, email, phone

To Elected Officials

Dear ___________,

As a concerned resident and constituent of yours, I am writing to ask you to introduce a local ordinance to ban carryout plastic bags and put a fee on carryout paper bags. Nearly 20 NJ towns as well as cities, states and countries (India, Canada, UK) around the world have already done so we are already seeing a reduction in plastic use.

Waste and litter from single-use plastics and other disposable products are creating an environmental crisis. We dispose of 100 billion plastic bags every year in the U.S., over 4 billion of which are used and disposed of in New Jersey. These bags are a threat to our health and environment, clogging storm drains, and releasing toxins into our air and water when incinerated and landfilled. Consumption of disposable plastics is causing irreparable damage to our marine life and oceans. Plastic pieces on the ocean surface now outnumber sea life 6 to 1. By 2050, there will be more plastics by weight than fish.

Reducing plastic bags helps the environment, but also saves retailers and consumers money. I hope you will support and join our efforts in town. Please consider sponsoring an ordinance in town for a bag ban. Thank you for your time, I’m looking forward to your response and would be happy to meet to answer any questions.


Name, address, email, phone

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