New bag bans coming May 4; NJ says ‘Get the plastic’
The day is almost upon us when shoppers in New Jersey will have to bag the idea that plastic bags will be there at the checkout counter. In large stores, there will also be no paper bags at the checkout. This day is May 4.
NJ Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Shawn M. LaTourette kicked off the month’s countdown by urging the public to prepare for the law on plastic bags and foam food service containers that goes into effect on May 4, by stocking up on reusable bags and visiting the DEP’s Get Past Plastic website.
The law, signed by Governor Murphy in 2020, requires grocery stores and retail establishments to no longer provide single-use plastic bags to customers. Plus, single-use paper bags will be a thing of the past in grocery stores 2,500 square feet or more. For example, at Target, cashiers were reminding Manahawkin shoppers last week to expect change.
Also say goodbye to the “Styrofoam” style coffee mug. The law also prohibits the sale of styrofoam take-out food containers and other styrofoam catering products such as plates, cups, food trays and utensils.
“Plastic pollution has become one of the world’s most pressing environmental issues,” LaTourette said. “Americans alone use some 100 billion plastic bags each year. While some of these bags are recycled, many end up in landfills and many more end up as trash that is harmful to our communities, ecosystems and wildlife. Unfortunately, these plastic bags make their way into our marine environments, killing fish, dolphins, whales, and other types of sea life.
As the state prepares to implement the law, DEP lists the following guidelines the public should know about plastic and reusable bags.
Supermarkets and groceries: These stores will no longer provide single-use plastic bags or paper bags for groceries. “Bring your own reusable bags or buy them at the store,” DEP tells consumers. (Stores under 2,500 square feet can still provide paper bags.) “Reusable bags must be made of polypropylene fabric, PET non-woven fabric, nylon, cloth, hemp product or another washable fabric; have sewn handles; and be designed and manufactured for multiple reuses. The bags are available at most grocery stores and retailers, as well as through online merchants.
Grocery stores will still be allowed to distribute plastic bags to hold loose items such as uncooked meats, fruits, vegetables, flowers, greeting cards and other loose items.
Plastic bags can be brought from home, state officials said. “If you have single-use plastic bags at home, you can continue to use them around your house or you can bring them when you go shopping. Only the grocery store is unable to provide single-use plastic or paper bags at checkout.
Restaurants: “Takeout customers should be prepared to receive single-use paper bags as well as plastic hot food bags which are used to hold items such as soup and chili. Customers are recommended to bring their own reusable bag in case the restaurant no longer provides single-use paper bags,” DEP said. “You can still receive your food in a paper bag at drive-through restaurants, but plastic bags will no longer be allowed. You can still get plastic utensils with meal orders as in the past. Table-service restaurants can provide “dog bags” made of any material except styrofoam.
Retail stores: Retail stores of any size can supply single-use paper bags to customers, but cannot supply single-use plastic bags. Pharmacies can provide single-use paper bags and can also use plastic bags to hold prescriptions. The DEP encourages consumers to bring reusable bags to pharmacies for other purchases.
Pantries and Food Banks: In recognition of the hardship the pandemic has imposed on many people, food pantries and food banks will have until November 4 to comply with the provisions of the plastic bag law. The Clean Communities Council will provide them with 500,000 reusable bags to distribute. They can also provide paper bags.
Expanded polystyrene trays“You will no longer be able to buy Styrofoam plates, cups or utensils. You will still be able to get plastic utensils and plastic or paper plates and cups, ”says the DEP.
Over the next two years, certain styrofoam foodservice products will be exempt from the law, including: raw and sliced meats, poultry and fish platters, portion cups of 2 ounces or less, if they are used for hot foods or foods requiring covers. Foods pre-packaged by the manufacturer in a polystyrene foam container are also permitted for sale.
Styrofoam catering products such as ice cream tubs, coffee mugs and soup containers will be prohibited. Food delivery can no longer be served or delivered in polystyrene. These foods can be delivered in other materials such as plastic, paper or aluminum products.
The new Get Past Plastic site of the DEP, nj.gov/dep-get-past-plasticcontains information on the law, including the types of reusable bags to use.
“We know businesses have been preparing all year for the May 4 start date for the Plastic Bag and Styrofoam Foodservice Act,” said Melanie Willoughby, executive director of New Jersey Business Action. Center. “But there might still be questions from their customers, so NJBAC is here to help answer those questions on our 1-800-JERSEY–7 helpline. We want to ensure that companies and their customers benefit from a smooth transition.
“With the statewide bag ban arriving quickly on May 4, we urge all New Jersey shoppers to get into the routine of bringing their own bags to the store every time they shop,” said NJ Clean Communities Council Executive Director JoAnn Gemenden. “It’s about creating new habits. Remember to keep your reusable bags in a handy place where you won’t forget them – and get used to using them, as we work together for a cleaner, litter-free New Jersey.
“It’s very important for all of us to work together to make a lasting difference in protecting our communities and the environment from plastic pollution,” added LaTourette.
— Maria Scandal