Moving past single use: New Jersey’s plastic bag ban goes into effect on May 4th

Cape May approved an ordinance limiting single-use plastic shopping bags two years ago, and the rest of the state is about to catch up. Beginning May 4th, single-use plastic takeout bags and polystyrene foam takeout containers will no longer be provided by retail and grocery stores or food service businesses throughout the state. Single-use paper bags are also leaving grocery stores larger than 2,500 square feet.

The polystyrene foam ban isn’t universal. You’ll still see it used through May 2024 in small portion cups for hot foods, meat and fish trays from the butcher, food pre-packaged by a manufacturer, and any food-service use deemed necessary by the DEP.

Apples in a reusable tote bag
Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

When Governor Murphy signed this legislation back in 2020, it was the most progressive in the country. Since it’s a state law, it supersedes municipal and county rules/regulations that were in place. And it will come with penalties. Businesses can be fined daily for violations.

Last November, plastic straws became a by-request item statewide rather than being given to all diners, although we have yet to see that in action. I was handed two last week. (My guess is that it’s a lack of education from the state, not intentional noncompliance.)

For more information and to read the full legislation, visit the State of NJ’s website.

Do I need to bring my own bag to New Jersey grocery stores?

Yes, starting this May you’ll need to bring your own bags when you go shopping. Reusable bags will likely be available for sale at major retailers. Single-use plastic bags will no longer be available (paid or free) starting May 4th.

The state is defining reusable carryout bags to be made of washable fabric (plastic based and natural fiber) with stitched handles, designed for multiple reuses.

Why aren’t plastic straws being outright banned in New Jersey?

While many people are able to drink without a straw, this isn’t the case for everyone. For some people with disabilities, it might not be safe—or possible. Requiring someone to bring their own reusable straw could mean that someone isn’t able to stay hydrated should they forget it or not know, and it puts the burden onto the individual. It also ignores possible allergies when it comes to reusable straw materials (glass straws are safe but breakable) and presents sanitation issues. So why not paper? Well, paper straws collapse and don’t bend. Plastic straws provide a safe, clean accommodation for people who need it. If you don’t, you have the option not to ask for a straw, but they’ll remain available for people who do.