Big changes are coming to the way New Jerseyans shop — and they have a lot of questions about it.
The state’s ban on plastic bags, paper bags, foam cartons and more begins May 4 in an effort to cut down on litter that inundates beaches and riverfronts throughout New Jersey.
The law is the product of years of negotiations and compromises, so there are a number of carve-outs and exemptions. But the major takeaways are this:
- Plastic carryout bags can no longer be given out or sold in any store or restaurant except woven plastic tote bags with stitched handles.
- Paper bags cannot be given out in supermarkets or big-box stores that have grocery sections.
- Foam food containers, including clamshell boxes and coffee cups, can no longer be given out. Plastic straws are available only upon request.
After the USA TODAY Network New Jersey published a guide to the new rules, it received dozens of questions from readers all over the state, from Hackensack to Point Pleasant to Haddon Heights. Here are the answers to some of the most commonly asked queries.
Can I use my stash of old plastic bags after May 4?
No question was asked more often by readers. And no question was asked in a greater variety of ways.
The simple answer? The new law does not stop people from using plastic bags. It only bans stores from giving them out.
So, can I still line my trash cans with these bags?
And it is.
Can I still pick up my dog’s poop with my old bags?
And it is.
Can I bring them to the store with me and shop?
Yes, unless for some reason the store has its own set of rules.
You can do whatever you want with these bags after May 4.
Can I still buy plastic garbage bags?
And it is.
The law targets only carryout bags, not bags for sale.
Do we have to bring our own bags for clothing and houseware purchases?
It depends on the store.
The plastic bag ban applies to all stores regardless of what they sell.
The paper bag ban applies only to supermarkets. So any store that is not a supermarket — a department store, clothing boutique, electronics store — can still give out paper bags if they so choose.
The best advice: When in doubt, bring a reusable bag.
I get my groceries delivered or do curbside pickup. How will they be packed?
Supermarkets have limited options here, since they essentially cannot give out any bag for free.
Many will likely use a reusable bag and charge customers. Some may be able to put them in free cardboard boxes in which the stores get deliveries.
Instacart, one of the biggest delivery services in the US, plans to use reusable bags and charge customers for them, a spokeswoman said.
Why can’t I pay for a paper bag at a supermarket, as is allowed in New York City or California?
The ban on paper bags being given out at supermarkets is what makes New Jersey’s law the most stringent in the nation.
Supermarkets, which have a formidable lobbying force in Trenton, fought to ban paper bags in return for supporting the plastic bag ban as the bill was being debated and rewritten over several years.
Supermarkets did not want the additional expense of providing paper bags, which cost three to four times more than plastic, are heavier to transport and take up more storage room.
New York City and California stores charge a minimum of 5 and 10 cents respectively for paper bags.
Paper bags can still be given out for free in any other kind of store in New Jersey.
If restaurants can’t have foam containers, how will a customer take home leftovers?
The law is very specific on this.
It only bans polystyrene foam containers, commonly referred to as Styrofoam.
It does not ban hard plastic containers. Restaurants can also use more environmentally friendly cartons that biodegrade.
The ban includes food containers, plates, hot or cold beverage cups, meat or vegetable trays, cutlery, and egg cartons made from polystyrene.
Can I still recycle other plastic bags?
And it is.
Unlike New York City, supermarkets in New Jersey are not required to take back old plastic bags.
But many do.
Large chains including ShopRite and Acme say they will continue to have bag bins near their entrances and exits for customers to dispose of old bags or bags that aren’t exempt, such as:
- Meat department, produce and deli bags.
- Pet store, dry cleaning, pharmacy and newspaper bags.
Recycled plastic bags are often used in composite deck material, such as the kind you find on many Newer Jersey Shore boardwalks.
Can I put my plastic bags in my curbside recycling bin?
Some towns even impose fines if they find carryout plastic bags in the curbside recycling.
Plastic bags can easily get caught in sorting machines, causing a recycling plant’s entire operation to temporarily shut down while workers remove them.
My business has a ton of leftover plastic bags. What do I do with them?
While businesses can’t give plastic bags out to customers after May 4, they can do whatever they want with them between now and then.
As for getting rid of them responsibly, the state Department of Environmental Protection has no plan to collect bulk inventories of plastic bags.
Businesses should look to county and municipal recycling programs, some of which have drop-off locations for plastic bags, said Larry Hajna, a DEP spokesman.
Hajna also suggested donating plastic bags to food pantries, which were recently given a six-month extension to use plastic bags.
Is the new law posted online?
And it is.
Click here for all 4,412 words.
Still unsure about this new law?
See the USA TODAY Network New Jersey’s original Q&A about the law by clicking here.
The DEP has set up an email address and phone number to answer questions from residents and businesses: email@example.com and 609-984-4250.
A real human being answered when we called during business hours.
Scott Fallon has covered the COVID-19 pandemic since its onset in March 2020. To get unlimited access to the latest news about the pandemic’s impact on New Jersey, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.