Plastic, paper bags could disappear from stores before May 4 in New Jersey
The New Jersey law that will eventually ban single-use plastic and paper bags at retailers and food service establishments was signed in November 2020, but many shops — including major chains — are still figuring out exactly how they'll handle the shift on May 4.
There's one thing you can definitely count on, though: you are going to be bombarded by messaging about the change, starting in the next week or so.
This article is part 4 in a week-long New Jersey 101.5 series about the upcoming New Jersey ban on plastic bags, paper bags, and Styrofoam products.
"You'll start to see messaging on cart corrals, there will be videos playing at point of sale," said Linda Doherty, president and CEO of the New Jersey Food Council. "It's been an 18-month ramp-up and we anticipate seeing a huge outreach program coming from the supermarket industry."
Shops of all sizes will be blocked from handing out or selling single-use plastic bags at checkout. Supermarkets larger than 2,500 square feet will also be blocked from distributing or selling paper bags.
Doherty said she doesn't anticipate chaos at the front end of stores when the big day comes — there will be plenty of customers who forget their reusable bags, but that's already happening now.
"I think before the launch ... you'll see bag giveaways from grocers, you'll see discounted reusable bags for sale," Doherty added.
To make the transition easier for shoppers, unique platforms that already exist in other states are making their way to New Jersey in time for the ban. For example, GOATOTE, a reuse system that lets shoppers "check out" reusable bags and then return them for a cleaning when they're finished, will hit 10 New Jersey locations by May 4.
ShopRite plans to have a large and sufficient quantity of reusable bags available for customers ready to go for May 4, just in case there's a last-minute rush for the product, according to spokesperson Karen Meletta.
At some ShopRite locations, you could end up seeing single-use bags disappear before May 4, Meletta added. They're trying now to get through their supply of paper and plastic.
In the meantime, the supermarket chain is working on the specifics about how it plans to handle online orders for pickup or delivery (e-commerce orders are included in the bag ban). The service from ShopRite already comes with a fee.
In an emailed statement to New Jersey 101.5, Walmart said it is working to roll out bag-free pickup options nationwide.
"To help our New Jersey customers adjust to the state’s rule that will ban distribution of single-use bags beginning May 4, we’ll initiate an in-store communication program beginning in April. Our associates will be keenly focused on assisting customers in navigating this transition," said Felicia McCranie, director of corporate affairs.
Paper bags will continue to be permitted at convenience stores and other small shops. Sal Risalvato, executive director of the New Jersey Gasoline, Convenience Store and Automotive Association, said he expects his members to have paper bags available for customers who request them, rather than scrap bags altogether.
"Simply not providing bags will be difficult as the nature of the goods purchased in convenience stores will be difficult to carry without some sort of bag," he said. "I also expect that they will offer for sale reusable bags that will comply with the law."
"Realistically, these habits are not going to change overnight," said JoAnn Gemenden, executive director of the New Jersey Clean Communities Council.
The Council is one of the groups charged with raising awareness about the bag ban.
According to Gemenden, the biggest challenge with changing habits is getting you to bring reusable bags along every time you shop — many folks have been shopping one way for so long.
"Once you get into the habit, it's just second nature," Gemenden said.
She advises shoppers to add "reusable bags" to the top of every shopping list so they're not forgotten for the trip.
"Keep reusable bags where you won't forget them, next to your pocketbook, your keys, by your front door or garage door," she said. "Generally, you need just one in your peripheral vision as a reminder."
The final part of this series will focus on the ban's potential impact on lower-income residents and the groups that serve them.