NJ plastic bag ban FAQ: What's banned and when does it start

2022-08-22 07:01:51 By : Ms. Janice Lo

For generations, New Jerseyans have been used to hauling their groceries out in paper or plastic bags. 

That will come to an abrupt end in less than a month. 

But it's more complicated than that. 

New Jersey is about to enact the nation's most stringent ban on carryout bags along with some other everyday plastic products. 

The new law signed by Gov. Phil Murphy almost 18 months ago covers a lot of ground and is not exactly straightforward.

There are several carve-outs and exemptions strewn throughout the measure's 4,412 words after legislators, business lobbyists and environmental groups spent years arguing and compromising over different sections. 

Here is a guide to a law that will affect every New Jersey consumer:

Plastic pollution is a big problem in New Jersey.

It spreads easily and everywhere, because New Jersey is surrounded on three sides by water — with dozens of tidal rivers flowing inland.

For decades, the majority of litter picked up at annual beach cleanups by volunteers for Clean Ocean Action has been plastic. In recent years, plastic has accounted for more than 80% of the litter, with bags, foam and straws among the top items found.

Plastic doesn't biodegrade. It just breaks down into smaller pieces. A 2016 report by NY/NJ Baykeeper estimated that there were almost 166 million pieces of microscopic plastic — which can easily enter the lungs and bloodstream — floating in the waterways of New Jersey and New York.

Scientists have even found these microplastic particles in some of the state's most pristine waterways, including the upper Raritan and Passaic rivers.

Business groups, on the other hand, have criticized the ban as needless government intervention that would force consumers to buy other plastic products.

More answers to your questions:New Jersey's new plastic bag ban is coming, and readers have questions

Almost all plastic carryout bags.

Paper bags — but only in larger supermarkets or big box stores that have large grocery sections.

Most plastic foam food containers and cups.

Almost all of them begin Wednesday, May 4.

More:Environmentalists take Murphy to court to speed up efforts to combat climate change

The law targets plastic carryout bags — the kind that have been given for generations to consumers for free in nearly every kind of retail establishment. 

The ban covers all stores, not just supermarkets and restaurants. 

The ban covers all carryout plastic bags regardless of thickness.  

The law essentially wants shoppers to bring their own bags, and they can be made of anything.

Stores are stocking up on woven plastic tote bags to sell, along with those made of canvas, hemp and other materials. 

Although environmentalists and regulators often refer to thin plastic grocery store bags as "single-use," many people have reused them for other purposes, from picking up dog droppings to lining small trash cans. 

Most New Jerseyans will now have to buy bags, refrain from using them at all or use free bags that are exempt from the law (see above). 

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Trash can liners, heavy-duty contractor disposal bags and other plastic garbage bags will still be available for sale. 

The bill bans paper bags only at larger grocery stores.

This also includes big-box stores such as Costco, Target and Walmart if they have large grocery sections of at least 2,500 square feet.

Any other store — from a restaurant filling takeout orders to a boutique selling clothes — can still use paper bags.

You can also still buy paper lawn and leaf bags. 

The ban on paper bags did not come from the environmental lobby but from the supermarket lobby. 

As the bill was being debated in Trenton, representatives for the New Jersey Food Council pushed hard for a paper bag ban in return for supporting the plastic bag ban. Supermarkets did not want the additional expense of providing more costly paper bags.

The new law bans most food and beverage containers made from polystyrene, commonly referred to as Styrofoam.

The most common of these are the white and black clamshell containers used at buffets and for hot-food takeout orders. 

Small businesses that have less than $500,000 in annual revenue can apply for an exemption for one year if they find no "reasonably affordable" alternative.

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Other foam products are not slated to be banned until May 4, 2024. They include: 

But plastic straws can be given out now only when requested, under a provision in the law that took effect in November. 

Early versions of the bill had an outright ban on plastic straws, but advocates said those with physical disabilities should still be allowed to request them when dining out. No proof of a disability is required. 

Still, six months into the new regulation, many restaurants and other businesses still supply plastic straws unsolicited with every drink order.

Those lightweight, easily blown-away pieces of polystyrene will be banned in New Jersey in early 2024. 

They were covered under a separate law signed by Murphy in January. 

It's done, kaput, gone, adios. 

The state law preempts and nullifies any municipal or county regulations on plastic bags, foam containers and plastic straws.

The state Department of Environmental Protection delegates enforcement authority to local health departments. 

First offense is a warning. Second offense is a fine of up to $1,000. Third and subsequent offenses carry fines of up to $5,000. 

If you have more questions about New Jersey's plastic bans, reach out to Scott Fallon at fallon@northjersey.com. Please include your name and town.

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