Unless you've been living under a pile of trash, you've heard the state of New Jersey is waiting to see whether Gov. Phil Murphy will sign legislation that would implement a five-cent fee on single-use plastic and paper bags given to shoppers.

Meant to cut down on the amount of litter entering our waterways and eventually harming marine life, the idea sounds like an environmentalist's dream.

Well, maybe it was their dream 10 years ago.

Today, groups say this legislation doesn't go far enough. They're hoping Murphy decides against signing the bill as is, and makes a few adjustments for the Legislature to consider.

"The most recent iteration of bag laws is to ban plastic and put a fee on paper bags," said John Weber, Mid-Atlantic regional manager for the Surfrider Foundation. "We call it a hybrid — ban on plastic, fee on paper."

Weber said the point of such legislation is to change the public's behavior, not to nickel and dime everyone. And with the current bill allowing one cent of each fee to go back to the retailer, stores may actually push plastic bags on customers.

"Those of us that have been doing this for a long time — we know what works best," said Weber, a resident of Bradley Beach, which recently adopted a hybrid bill that takes effect in 2019.

The bill on Murphy's desk blocks municipalities from enacting their own bag fees or restrictions once the statewide rule is in effect. If signed into law, the fee would begin October 1.

"This is the 21st century and countries around the world are banning plastic bags," said Cindy Zipf, executive director of Highlands-based Clean Ocean Action. "We have really just paved the world with plastic because of our single-use tendencies."

Zipf said Clean Ocean Action and other organizations would like to see a phase-out of plastic bags over two or three years, with a 10-cent fee on paper bags going forward.

Environmentalists would also like to see a portion of the collected fees go to causes beyond a lead abatement fund.

As is, the bill applies only to retail establishments that are part of a chain or feature more than 2,000 square feet of retail space.

Murphy has until September 13 to decide on the measure, according to the state's legislative calendar.

Contact reporter Dino Flammia at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com.

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