New Jersey stores won't be able to stop you from using your own single-use plastic bags that you may have stashed away somewhere at home, but beginning May 4, they'll be prohibited from providing or selling such bags at checkout.

Single-use paper bags will also be off-limits for most grocery stores.

And there's more: Restaurants won't be able to provide you with styrofoam containers and they're already limited from freely handing out plastic straws.

As we get closer to the date when the bag law takes effect, environmental advocates are advising New Jersey residents: Start changing your shopping habits now so you're not lost when the law kicks in.

What's the NJ law on plastic and paper bags and styrofoam?

Gov. Phil Murphy in November 2020 signed into law legislation that bans grocery stores, retail outlets, movie theaters and food trucks, among other businesses, from providing customers with single-use plastic bags, or selling them.

The law also includes a ban on paper bags at grocery stores measuring more than 2,500 square feet (that's about the square-footage of an average home in the U.S.).

When does the ban on plastic and paper shopping bags begin?

The big change kicks in on May 4. That's also when restaurants and shops will have to stop giving out or selling any polystyrene foam food service products, aka Styrofoam.

One part of the law already kicked in, on Nov. 4, 2021 — foodservice businesses can only provide single-use plastic straws to customers upon request.

Starting May 4, stores may provide or sell only reusable carryout bags to customers, according to the law.

New Jersey Clean Communities Kitchen
New Jersey Clean Communities Kitchen

Can I still use my old plastic shopping bags in NJ?

As the consumer, you're not limited to what type of bags or other packaging you may bring into a grocery store in order to conveniently check out.

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection notes on its website that the public can use bags that don't qualify as "reusable carryout bags" under the law. So, if you've been hoarding plastic bags for years, feel free to dip into that stash until you run out.

What's considered a reusable bag?

When the bag portion of the law takes effect, food service businesses will be able to provide or sell bags that:

  • are designed and manufactured for multiple uses; and
  • have stitched handles; and
  • are made of polypropylene fabric, polyester non-woven fabric, nylon, cloth, hemp product, or other washable fabric.

DEP says all reusable bags need to "withstand multiple washes" as well.

A reusable bag from the NJ Food Council campaign.
A reusable bag from the NJ Food Council campaign.

Will stores in NJ give you free reusable bags?

It's highly unlikely, due to cost, that stores will just hand out these reusable bags as freely as they currently do with paper and plastic.

So, if you're interested in stocking up now on these bags that are durable, washable, and better for the environment, you could end up with a nice supply if you add just one to your collection each week.

How much do reusable bags cost?

Most companies don't show all, or even most, of their reusable-bag options on their websites. But if you've visited any of the major chains recently, you've likely seen displays lined with these bag options.

The stores' prices generally range from 50 cents to 2.99, based on the size and material of the bag. Cloth bags, for example, will cost you more than ones that are non-woven.

ShopRite and Walmart both have reusable insulated bags available for less than $3. A non-insulated bag like the one below is available for 50 cents at Stop & Shop.

As of now, online retailers such as Amazon don't appear to offer better prices to consumers.

Dino Flammia, Townsquare Media NJ
Dino Flammia, Townsquare Media NJ

Single-use plastic already isn't an option at chains such as Lidl and Aldi. Shoppers are given a number of purchasable options at checkout. At Aldi, you could grab a polyethylene bag for 13 cents.

Companies' exact plans for adhering to the law aren't yet known — more chains may expand their options to include cheaper, thinner bags. Still, anything they sell must be washable and designed for a minimum of 125 uses.

Contact reporter Dino Flammia at

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