Shoppers caught off guard, but some show support for NJ’s new plastic bag ban

Shoppers caught off guard, but some show support for NJ’s new plastic bag ban

N.J. single-use plastic bag ban starts today

A customer walked out of ShopRite holding 20 bananas. “I completely forgot it was starting,” he remarked on his way to his car to escape the rain. “It’s ridiculous.”

An Acme Market regular walked into her local store with a reusable bag handy. “It was about time – that’s what everyone says, and I agree,” said Victoria Laszlow. “So I have to bring my own bag, I can collect cute bags, what’s the problem?”

Mardel Zuniga, a mother with her children in a trolley at Walmart, was taken aback when she arrived at the store to find the rolls of plastic bags were empty. “You can buy them for 99 cents,” a store employee would periodically announce to customers checking out.

As the ban on single-use plastic bags began Wednesday morning in all New Jersey stores, shoppers got mixed reactions.

Some were relieved that New Jersey was taking more action on sustainability. Others said they were frustrated with the new rules or confused about the ban’s exact application.

The law, signed by Governor Phil Murphy on November 4, 2020, means grocery stores, restaurants, schools, delis, movie theaters, food trucks, retail stores and other businesses can no longer distribute or sell single-use plastic bags. It also prohibits grocery stores from providing or selling paper bags. Paper bags will still be allowed in small stores like boutiques, bodegas and convenience stores.

Starting Wednesday, all restaurants and stores in the Garden State must also stop supplying or selling polystyrene products like cups and plates — commonly known as Styrofoam. Plastic straws, while not banned, can only be provided to customers of cafes and other businesses if they request them, under a law that came into effect in November.

Stores with excess plastic bags can recycle them or donate them to food pantries, which get a six-month reprieve from the ban.

NJ's Single-Use Plastic Bag Ban Begins Today

Shoppers use their own bags at Stop & Shop in Bloomfield. Today is the first day in New Jersey to ban single-use plastic bags at all store registers and paper bags at major grocery stores. Wednesday, May 4, 2022.Patti Sapon | NJ advance media

“This sucks. I had to spend $10 on all these reusable bags. They took out all the polystyrene bags, cups and plates. What they should at least do for the first week is give you a few reusable bags (for free),” said 70-year-old Pennsauken resident Rose Zane.

“I should have come over yesterday and grabbed a bunch of plastic bags. I like the ones for home trash cans and lunch bags,” she added as she loaded up her car at Walmart in Cherry Hill.

Tanya Norton of Englewood Cliffs was also hoping for a more gradual transition.

She arrived at the Acme checkout with a week’s worth of groceries in her cart and no plastic bags in sight. After some thought, she made the decision to forego buying reusable bags — at least for today — and instead placed the items directly into her shopping cart.

“I thought they would at least finish the remaining bags, but they took them all away,” Norton said.

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

Catherine Lopez, a 31-year-old Camden resident, also didn’t realize the bag ban was in place until she reached the Walmart checkout.

“I had no idea,” Lopez said in Spanish while loading her car with soda bottles and paper towels. “I plan to buy reusable bags, but today I happen to have extra plastic bags in my trunk that I could use.”

Several customers visiting New Jersey grocery stores on Wednesday morning brought in recyclable bags, reusable nylon bags, canvas bags or walked in with plastic bags from their home stash — which the new law allows.

Although considered probably the strictest bag ban in the country, there are still a few exceptions.

All stores can continue to provide free produce bags and bags used for packing meat or dry cleaning. They may also continue to sell garbage bags, Ziploc-type bags, pet waste bags, meat in polystyrene wrappers, and egg cartons, some of which are made from polystyrene materials.

Before the ban went into effect, grocery stores encouraged shoppers to bring reusable bags, stock up on plastic bags from home, consider greener alternatives, or simply go without bags altogether. .

Some major grocers even gave away free reusable bags before the ban was implemented in a bid to prepare consumers. For example, Stop & Shop stores in New Jersey ran a promotion on Monday and Tuesday where customers could receive one free reusable bag each, no purchase necessary.

But some shoppers were still caught without a bag like Carlos Pena, who visited the Bloomfield Stop & Shop site on Wednesday morning. Pena this time loaded his items directly into the basket, but said he would prefer to use plastic bags or even be able to pay for paper bags.

“I don’t like it because it’s an inconvenience. I don’t mind paying an extra dollar or two,” he said.

The store offers customers “a few options” if they are caught off guard at checkout, said Stefanie Shuman, a Stop & Shop spokeswoman who walked NJ Advance Media into the store’s Bloomfield location on Wednesday.

Reusable bags ranging in price from 50 cents to $2.50 can be purchased on site. The most expensive bag, called the “community bag,” is insulated and $1 from each purchase goes to a local New Jersey charity selected by the store, Shuman said. You can also follow in Pena’s footsteps and forgo bags altogether.

“Of course, there are some frustrations, some hiccups — like with any change,” Shuman said. “But the general customers today at Bloomfield totally understand.”

RELATED: I lived with a plastic bag ban for 3 years. Here are my tips for getting out of it.

A customer met the Wegmans in Cherry Hill without a bag. A few minutes later, she ran out – broccoli in a bag of produce and a loaf of bread already in its own wrapper in her hand.

Pushing a cart down aisle 19 of the same Wegmans, Don Hollingsworth said he didn’t think the new law “made sense”.

“All these (new reusable bags) will end up in the ocean and landfill anyway,” said Hollingsworth, 58, of Haddon Township. “I still have around 3,000 single-use plastic bags at home and plan to sell them.”

Customers can also choose to use canvas bags, laundry baskets, biodegradable bags, tote bags and cardboard boxes.

Although single-use plastic bags can still be purchased online, advocates and experts said the hope is that people reduce the amount of plastic they regularly use.

A few stores away from Wegmans at Home Depot, Lydia DeMonsi, a Cherry Hill retiree, cheered the new ban.

“I’ve been using reusable bags for a few months,” she said of her own personal bag ban. However, since she was only collecting flowers and fertilizer on Wednesday, she did not need the bags.

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

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Jackie Roman can be contacted at jroman@njadvancemedia.com.

Steven Rodas can be reached at srodas@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @stevenrodasnj.

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