The NJ plastic bag ban begins today. Tips to know before you go to the store.

The NJ plastic bag ban begins today. Tips to know before you go to the store.

The NJ plastic bag ban begins today.  Tips to know before you go to the store.

New Jersey’s plastic bag ban is officially in effect.

Since Wednesday May 4, single-use plastic bags are prohibited in all store checkouts, and paper bags in large grocery stores. The bill to ban bags and other single-use plastic items was signed into law in November 2020, but gave stores and consumers 18 months to prepare.

The ban is probably the strictest in the country, as it’s the only one that prohibits paper bags in grocery stores (most other bag-banning states allow paper bags, for free or for a nominal fee). The ban also includes polystyrene products and limits when straws can be distributed.

It will surely take some time to get used to the new rules, but the basic information you need to know can be found here.

What types of bags are prohibited?

All stores are prohibited from distributing or selling single-use plastic bags upon checkout. Paper bags are banned in grocery stores, but non-grocery stores and retail stores can still supply them in paper. It will be fine for a clothing retailer or a small bodega to put your purchase in a paper bag.

Produce bags, bags used for packaging meat or dry cleaning, and a few other exceptions remain.

Read more: Garbage, products and pet waste bags are still acceptable when the new law takes effect

So what do I do when I go grocery shopping?

Bring your own reusable bags, be prepared to purchase some at checkout, or plan to shop without a bag. You can always take your purchased items into the car and put them directly in the trunk.

Stores cannot require customers to purchase a reusable bag.

Also, if you’re like most people and have stocked up on a bunch of those single-use bags or paper bags, you can always bring them to checkout if you want. The idea here is to get people to reduce their plastic consumption.

Read more: Why are grocery stores banned from using paper bags?

What is a reusable bag?

To be considered a reusable bag, the bag must have handles, be made of some kind of washable fabric, and withstand 125 multiple uses and washes.

Anything made of plastic, regardless of its thickness, is not considered reusable.

But the law applies to what stores can offer you. This does not apply to what you can bring. If you have an entire kitchen cupboard full of plastic bags, you can continue to use them.

Read more: How to keep your reusable bags clean

How will this affect my home grocery order?

Most New Jersey grocery stores told NJ Advance Media they plan to distribute a new set of reusable bags with every online order. Most stores will implement a new fee to cover bags, while one (Whole Foods) told NJ Advance Media it will be rolled into their existing fee.

Some stores, like Walmart and Target, have said they won’t use any type of bag when you pick up your order.

And for customers worried about having too many reusable bags, some grocery chains are working to set up a bag return program, so that any unwanted bags can be donated to pantries.

Read more: Here’s How Grocery Stores Process Online Orders

Can I still use plastic bags in my house, like in my trash can?

Sure. You can use this supply of plastic bags for your bathroom trash can or to pick up your pet’s waste. According to experts, reusing (repeatedly, not once) is actually better than recycling.

Once these have run out, you can always buy trash bags from stores. Experts recommend buying compostable bags or reducing your use of garbage bags.

Read more: These bags were perfect for small trash cans. Now what?

I used these 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 for pet waste, as well as other options like using paper bags, newspapers, composting, or sometimes rinsing the waste, depending on your sanitation system.

Read more: New Jersey plastic bag ban poses greater challenges for low-income people with disabilities, advocates say

Is there help for people on fixed or low income?

Community groups are working to provide free bags to those who need them.

NJ Clean Communities, a nonprofit organization tasked with providing information and resources before the law was implemented, distributed reusable bags at various community events.

SNAP/EBT benefits cannot be used to purchase reusable bags, as federal law prohibits the use of these benefits on non-food items.

What is polystyrene and how does this part of the ban affect me?

Polystyrene is a plastic used to make food containers. It comes in two forms: hard plastic like you might get a deli condiment and foam, which you would probably associate with the term Styrofoam.

As of May 4, containers made from polystyrene foam will be prohibited. The hard version will not be included in the ban, a DEP official said.

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 polystyrene, depending on the state.

The ban applies to all types of businesses.

Read more: Styrofoam plates and cups will not be sold in NJ stores when the bag ban begins

Are straws also prohibited?

There is no statewide ban on single-use plastic straws, but restaurants can only give them out at the express request of a customer. It started in November.

Catering businesses are required to maintain a supply of plastic straws, something disability advocates called for when similar straw bans came into force elsewhere.

Non-plastic straws (think paper or candy cane straws) are not part of the law, and businesses can distribute them without a customer asking.

For more information on the ban, visit nj.com/plasticbagban. Still have questions about New Jersey’s plastic bag ban? Ask them here.

Katie Kausch can be contacted at kkausch@njadvancemedia.com. Steven Rodas can be reached at srodas@njadvancemedia.com.

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