[News] New Jersey’s single-use bag ban goes into effect

Release time:

Jul 14,2022

Disposable plastic, paper bags curtailed under new rules

Disposable plastic, paper bags curtailed under new rules

A New Jersey law barring grocery stores from giving customers single-use paper and plastic bags went into effect Wednesday, marking a long-sought victory for environmentalists even as some call for the state to create more exemptions.

The measure, signed into law by Gov. Phil Murphy in November 2020, exempts food retailers with less than 2,500 square feet in store space from the paper bag prohibition, though they are still barred from dispensing single-use plastic bags.

“It is exciting and challenging,” said Ed Potosnak, executive director of the New Jersey League of Conservation Voters. “It doesn’t come easily, but we have the nation-leading law.”

Violators first face a warning, then a $1,000 fine that jumps to $5,000 for their third breach and any thereafter.

A prohibition on polystyrene food service products — that can include food containers, disposal plates, and single-use foam cups — also went into effect Wednesday, though certain polystyrene products are exempted from the ban for an additional two years. That means milkshake spoons, raw meat and fish trays, foods prepackaged with polystyrene, and certain small portion cups will remain available until May 2024.

The Department of Environmental Protection can add plastic items to the list of exemptions if it finds there is no non-plastic replacement that isn’t cost prohibitive. Such exemptions last for one year and can be extended.

The agency can also issue yearlong blanket exemptions to the bag and polystyrene food product bans to individuals, government entities, and businesses with less than $500,000 in annual gross income if replacement products are unaffordable or commercially unavailable. It can also issue exemptions if replacement products simply do not exist.

The law has already curtailed the use of single-use plastic straws. While they are not explicitly barred, the law since November 2021 has required restaurants to give plastic straws only to customers who request them.

Each of those provisions supersedes regulations enacted by local governments.

The law requires the DEP and Department of State create an educational campaign and, among other things, hand out free reusable bags.

Growing pains

Smith, who chairs the Senate’s Environment and Energy Committee, said he expects New Jerseyans to finish adjusting to the new bag rules in about two months.

Linda Doherty, president and CEO of the New Jersey Food Council, an industry group, said the 18-month runway to the law’s implementation gave the state’s grocery stores enough time to prepare. Retailers cooperated with a series of state agencies on a public information campaign that included radio and in-store announcements, she added.

It remains to be seen how the new rules affect an economy still strained by high inflation, rising gas prices, and unemployment that has yet to fall to pre-pandemic levels. Some businesses have planned ahead for the shift.

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