Just six months into a statewide ban on single-use paper and plastic bags, billions of these bags have avoided circulation in New Jersey, advocates say.

By the middle of next year, it's estimated that the state's law will have saved more than 8 billion bags, at food stores alone, from entering the cycle, and eventually waterways and landfills.

"It is our opinion that this is one of the most successful environmental programs ever implemented in New Jersey," said Linda Doherty, president and CEO of New Jersey Food Council, which represents supermarkets across the state.

Their sample of 160 grocery stores showed a reduction in single-use paper bags from 1.1 million per month to zero at those locations, and a reduction in single-use plastic bags from 55 million per month to zero, Doherty said.

There are approximately 2,000 grocery stores in the state. The single-use law also applies to convenience stores and other retailers.

According to JoAnn Gemenden, executive director of New Jersey Clean Communities Council, the environmental results of the state's law have been "astounding."

"If you drive along any major highway in New Jersey, you notice a difference in litter," Gemenden told New Jersey 101.5.

Plastic bags are typically among the most commonly spotted items during NJCCC's coastal cleanups. But the presence of bags was minimal this September, Gemenden said.

NJCCC was one of the groups tasked with educating New Jersey about the change that took effect on May 4.

According to Doherty, business owners are reporting that customers have adapted quickly to the change and have settled into the habit of bringing their own reusable bags to the store.

But now advocates are concerned about an abundance of reusable bags. They're calling on customers with excess bags from delivery service to donate those bags to local food banks, which have been scheduled to see their exemption from the law expire in November.

Meanwhile, statewide legislation is already aiming to tweak New Jersey's ban. Under a measure in the Senate, grocery stores using delivery services would be able to provide or sell single-use paper bags that contain at least 40% postconsumer recycled content.

The legislation also would require that grocery stores create a program allowing their delivery customers to return or donate their reusable bags.

Dino Flammia is a reporter for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com

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