NJ’s Plastic and Paper Bag Ban: What to Know

Starting May 4, large grocery stores in New Jersey can no longer provide paper or plastic bags to customers.

plastic bags in grocery store
New Jersey's ban on single-use plastic bags is deemed the strongest in the country. Photo by Patrick Lane/Getty Images

It’s time to get those reusable bags ready!

Starting May 4, large grocery stores in New Jersey can no longer provide paper or plastic bags to customers. Signed into law in November 2020, the much-anticipated statewide ban—deemed the strongest of its kind in the nation—prohibits the distribution of single-use plastic and paper bags in grocery stores of 2,500 square feet or larger, as well as in big retailers like Target.

Instead, these shops can sell reusable bags— or customers can bring their own.

Smaller grocery stores, as well as non-food stores, meanwhile, can still offer paper bags at no cost.

The ban is expected to impact food stores and services the most.

The law does allow for exceptions for certain items, such as newspapers, dry cleaning, and deli meats and cheeses, which can still be wrapped in plastic.

As locally sourced, organic foods enthusiast Chelsa Salesman opened a second independent GreenGrocer Food Hub market in New Jersey, she said she isn’t worried about the ban. “We always used paper or recommended customers bring their own bags,” says the Hunterdon County resident.

Salesman added that many environmentally-conscious customers already request “no plastic.”

Starting in November 2021, the legislation also restricted single-use plastic straws and required restaurants to provide them only upon request, a consideration for differently
abled people who may need a straw to enjoy a meal outside their home.

Polystyrene cups and other items also are being banned. But for the next two years, trays for meat, lidded portion cups of two ounces or less, and food products prepackaged by manufacturers will be allowed.

New Jersey’s plastics ban gained legislative support after municipalities passed 120 similar ordinances backed by local environmental activists and volunteers, an effort led by the Association of New Jersey Environmental Commissions (ANJEC) to reduce a major pollutant—plastics—and protect the environment, especially waterways.

“We saw there was a huge opportunity to take action in New Jersey,” says ANJEC Executive Director Jennifer Coffey.

Since then, state agencies and other organizations have educated businesses and consumers about the ban and why it’s critical.

Says Salesman, “It’s a small thing we can do to take a step forward in a big way.”

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