New Jersey’s plastic bag ban is officially in effect.
Starting Wednesday, May 4, single-use plastic bags are banned at all store registers and paper bags at large grocery stores. The bill to ban bags and other single-use plastic items was signed into law in November 2020, but it gave stores and consumers 18 months to prepare.
The ban is likely to be the strictest in the country, as it is the only one that bans paper bags at grocery stores (most other states with bag restrictions allow paper bags, either for free or for a nominal fee). . Restrictions also include polystyrene products and limits on when straws can be handed out.
It will certainly take some time to get used to the new rules, but all you need to know is the basics.
What Kinds of Bags Are Banned?
All stores are prohibited from supplying or selling single use plastic bags when you check out. Paper bags have been banned at grocery stores, but non-grocery and retail stores can still provide paper to them. It’s okay for a clothing retailer or small bodega to hand your purchases in a paper bag.
Produce bags, bags used to pack meat or dry cleaning, and a few other exceptions remain.
Read more: Garbage, Produce, Pet Waste Bags Still OK When New Law Begins
So what do I do when I go to the grocery store?
Bring your own reusable bags, be prepared to buy some at the register or plan to do your shopping without a bag. You can always take your purchased items out of the car and put them directly in the trunk.
The store may not require customers to purchase reusable bags.
Plus, if you’re like most people and you’ve accumulated a bunch of those single-use bags or paper bags, you can still bring them to use at checkout if you want. The idea here is to inspire people to reduce their plastic consumption.
Read more: Why is the use of paper bags banned at grocery stores?
What Qualifies as a Reusable Bag?
To be considered a reusable bag, the bag must have handles, be made of some sort of washable fabric, and can withstand 125 uses and multiple washes.
Anything made of plastic, regardless of thickness, is not considered recyclable.
But the law applies to what stores can give you. This does not apply to what you can bring. If you have an entire kitchen cabinet full of plastic bags, you’re fine to continue using them.
Read more: How to keep your reusable bags clean
How will this affect my shop-to-home grocery order?
Most grocery stores in New Jersey told NJ Advance Media that they plan to distribute a new set of reusable bags with every online order. Most stores will apply the new fee to cover the bag, while one (Whole Foods) told NJ Advance Media that it will be included in their current fees.
Some stores, like Walmart and Target, say they won’t use any type of bag when you come to pick up your order.
And for customers with lots of reusable bags, some grocery chains are working on setting up bag return programs, so any unwanted bags can be donated to the food pantry.
Read more: Here’s How Grocery Stores Are Handling Online Orders
Can I still use plastic bags in my home, like those in my trash?
Sure. You can use plastic bags for your bathroom trash can, or to scoop up your pet waste. Experts say that reusing (again, not just once) is actually better than recycling.
Once they run out, you can still buy garbage bags in stores. Experts recommend buying compostable bags or minimizing the use of garbage bags.
Read more: Those bags were great for small trash cans. now what?
I used those bags for dog waste and cat litter, so what am I going to do now?
Now is the time to get creative and do a little research.
There are biodegradable bags available for pet waste, as well as other options such as using paper bags, newspapers, compost or the occasional flushing waste, depending on your wastewater system.
Read more: Advocates say NJ plastic bag ban poses major challenge to low-income, disabled
Is there any help for people with fixed or low income?
Community groups are working to get free bags to those who need them.
NJ Clean Communities, a nonprofit tasked with providing information and resources prior to the law’s implementation, is distributing reusable bags to various community events.
SNAP/EBT benefits cannot be used to purchase reusable bags, as federal law prohibits those benefits from being used on non-food items.
What is polystyrene, and how does that part of the ban affect me?
Polystyrene is a plastic used to make food containers. It comes in two forms: hard plastic like you can find a condiment in the deli and foam, which you might associate with the word Styrofoam.
Containers made using foam polystyrene will be banned from May 4. A DEP official said the stricter version would not be included in the ban.
Styrofoam plates and cups will no longer be available for purchase at grocery stores. Plastic utensils, plates and cups are allowed, as are paper plates and cups, but nothing made of polystyrene is state wise.
The restriction applies to all types of businesses.
Read more: NJ stores won’t sell Styrofoam plates, cups when bag ban begins
Is straw also banned?
There is no statewide ban on single-use plastic straws, but restaurants may only give one if a customer specifically asks for it. It started in November.
Food service businesses are required to keep a supply of plastic straws on hand, something disability advocates have insisted when similar straw restrictions have come into force elsewhere.
Non-plastic straws (think: paper or sugarcane straws) aren’t part of the law, and businesses can hand them out without the customer asking.
For more information about the ban, visit nj.com/plasticbagban, Still have questions about New Jersey’s plastic bag ban? Ask them here.