Though it took years to pass the New Jersey Legislature and get signed into law by Gov. Phil Murphy, a law banning single-use plastic carryout bags, as well as paper bags at supermarkets, finally goes into effect Wednesday as the state tries to establish a “new norm” of customers using their own reusable bags to reduce waste.
The law gave the stores and the public 18 months to prepare before it went into effect.
Retailers, grocery stores, and food service businesses cannot provide or sell single-use plastic carryout bags and polystyrene foam food service products. That also means shoppers will no longer be able to buy foam plates, cups, or utensils.
Most businesses, except supermarkets, can provide single-use paper carryout bags.
What’s the difference between single-use and reusable?
Though the law doesn’t give a technical definition of single-use, it refers to “a carryout bag made of plastic that is not a reusable carryout bag” — in other words, the thin bags we are all used to getting at just about every store since the 1980s. New Jersey has a similar non-definition for paper bags, sort of like “we know it when we see it.”
Stores are allowed to sell reusable carryout bags, which are defined as being made from a thicker “polypropylene or PET plastic,” or made of fabric, nylon, cloth, hemp, or other machine washable fabric. They typically have stitched handles and are designed for reuse. (Philadelphia’s plastic carryout bag ban spells out that reusable bags are those thicker than 2.25 mil.)
What happens if a store doesn’t comply?
A business will get an initial warning. It faces a $1,000 fine for a second offense and $5,000 for every offense after that. The money would go to a Clean Communities Program Fund used to pay for litter pickup programs, graffiti cleanups, environmental aid to municipalities, Adopt-A-Highway programs, and anti-litter education.
What types of business are affected?
Food stores over 2,500 square feet such as Wegmans and ShopRite cannot give single-use plastic or paper bags at checkout, curbside, or home delivery, though they can sell reusable bags. Items typically sold loose, such as produce, greeting cards, and flowers are exempt. Also exempt are foam containers used for raw and deli sliced meats, including poultry and fish trays. Items already pre-packed in foam, like instant ramen noodles, are allowed.
Restaurants, cafes, food trucks, etc. cannot give out single-use plastic bags or serve or deliver food in foam containers, nor are they to give out plastic straws unless requested. They can use single-use paper bags. Paper straws are exempt.
Convenience stores such as Wawa and 7-Eleven cannot use single-use plastic bags but can provide paper bags.
Pharmacies cannot provide single-use plastic bags — except for prescriptions.
Retail stores such as Target and Macy’s cannot provide single-use plastic bags but can provide paper bags.