Back in November 2021, Governor Murphy signed legislation banning both paper and plastic bags, polystyrene foam food packaging, and mandating plastic straws be available by request only. The Plastic Pollution Reduction Act was and still is celebrated as the country’s strongest and most comprehensive policy tackling single-use plastics in the country. Prior to the law’s enactment, New Jerseyans were using 4.4 billion plastic bags each year, many of which easily found their way to our local waterways where they choked wildlife and became unsightly “urban tumbleweeds” in our communities. What’s more is that a body of research continues to grow about the adverse human health impacts microplastics pose as it’s clear that microplastics can move up the food chain.
Despite a successful distribution of reusable bags across the state, households have now collected a mass collection of tote bags from online grocery orders, and from simply forgetting their reusable bags and continuing to buy new ones at the store. We’ve seen several articles published over the last few weeks highlighting this unintended consequence of NJ’s bag law - but now what can we do about it?
For one, we’re not going back to plastic bags, but there are other ideas floating around. Senator Bob Smith, the co-sponsor of the original bill and environmental champion has introduced new legislation (S3114) to provide an interim fix to this issue.
In summary the new legislation would:
- Allow grocery stores to provide third party grocery delivery services will be allowed to use paper bags and cardboard boxes for 5 years, as long as they're made from 40% recycled materials.
- Prohibit food banks from providing plastic bags
- Allow grocery stores to offer customers an optional reusable bag takeback service.
Allowing paper bags and cardboard boxes for a small segment of the population that uses delivery services is a good interim solution for 5 years as kinks of the bag law continue to be worked out. In the age of convenience and as we continue to live with Covid-19, online ordering needs to be sustainable too. We’re continuing to look at other models in other states and countries as well.
An Unintended Outcome of NJ’s Plastic Bag Law, but Fixable
Do you have a stockpile of reusable bags at home? Here’s what you can do:
- Donate clean reusable bags:
- Hoboken Community Center (HCC) Pantry
- The Community FoodBank of New Jersey launched a look-up tool to find a food pantry accepting reusable bags near them.
- The Community Food Bank of South Jersey has a drop-off program in four counties (Burlington, Camden, Cumberland and Salem). Details are available at foodbanksj.org/reusable-bags/.
- Joseph’s House in Camden
- Fulfill Food Bank, which assists food banks and soup kitchens throughout Monmouth and Ocean counties
- Use them as trick or treat bags. Halloween is right around the corner!
- Use them as gift bags.
- Think beyond the grocery store. Use them around your home for storage and larger reusable bags double as great laundry bags.
- Share with neighbors and friends.
- Having trouble remembering your bags when you’re out shopping? Put a sticky note on your steering wheel to remind you to grab them out of the trunk or carry them in a purse/backpack.