A proposed law moving through Trenton is being promoted as a win for the environment, as well as for folks who get frustrated when the tiny item they ordered online arrives in a container that could fit something 10 times bigger.

Under a measure that was advanced on Monday by the Senate Environment and Energy Committee, retailers would be penalized for shipping items in unnecessarily large boxes.

Specifically, the bill prohibits any "large online retailer" or "major retailer" from utilizing a shipping box that is greater than two times the volume of a product being shipped.

To count as a large online retailer, a business needs to record annual gross sales of at least $1 million in New Jersey. A retail establishment that has 50 or more employees and occupies at least 75,000 square feet counts as a major retailer.

Ship smarter

"Online shopping is already responsible for large amounts of packaging waste on a daily basis," the bill reads. "To reduce the packaging waste associated with online shopping, it is imperative that large online retailers and major retailers reduce the size of the shipping boxes utilized to ship their products to consumers."

The bill makes an exception for electronics, and any requirements from the United States Postal Service or a private shipping company would overrule the legislation, if it were to become law.

"Even a small percentage of packages that are in oversized boxes add up," said Doug O'Malley, director of Environment New Jersey.

He and other advocates for the environment want to see the bill revised to include more containers than just cardboard boxes.

Businesses oppose the proposed rule

The measure says a violation can result in a fine of $250 to $500 for retailers.

Business groups suggest the bill is just another attempt by New Jersey to micromanage significant logistics operations.

"I don't think it's the intent of the companies who are subject to this bill to be wasteful," said Ray Cantor, deputy chief government affairs officer for the New Jersey Business & Industry Association.

John Holub, president of the New Jersey Retail Merchants Association, said many companies have thousands of items available for shipment, and boxes aren't customized for each product. In certain instances, he said, an extremely small product needs to be in a larger box so that a shipping label can easily be applied.

"I really fail to see how this is going to be remotely enforceable," Holub told lawmakers. "Who's going to be the box police?"

A companion bill in the Assembly was introduced in April.

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