Shoppers caught unprepared, but some show support for NJ’s new plastic bag ban

One customer walked out of ShopRite holding 20 bananas in his arms. “I completely forgot this was starting,” he remarked on the way to his car to escape the rain. “This is ridiculous.”

A regular at Acme Market strode into her local store with a reusable bag at the ready. “It’s about time – that’s what everybody is saying, and I agree,” Victoria Laszlow said. “So I got to bring a bag of my own, I get to collect cute bags, what’s the problem?”

Mardel Zuniga, a mother with her children in cart at Walmart, was caught off guard when she arrived at the store to find the plastic bag rollers were empty. “You can buy these for 99 cents,” a store employee periodically announced to customers checking out.

As the ban on single-use plastic bags began Wednesday morning at all New Jersey stores, shoppers had a mixed bag of reactions.

Some were relieved New Jersey was taking more steps toward sustainability. Others said they were frustrated by the new rules or confused at what exactly the ban applied to.

The law, signed by Gov. Phil Murphy on Nov. 4, 2020, means grocery stores, restaurants, schools, delis, movie theaters, food trucks, retail stores and other businesses can no longer hand out or sell single-use plastic bags. It also restricts grocery stores from providing or selling paper bags. Paper bags will still be allowed at small stores like boutiques, bodegas and convenience stores.

Starting Wednesday, all eateries and stores in the Garden State must also stop providing or selling polystyrene products like cups and plates – commonly referred to as Styrofoam. Plastic straws, while not banned, can only be provided to customers at cafes and other businesses if they ask for them, according to a law that began in November.

Stores with excess plastic bags can recycle them or donate them to food pantries, which have a six-month reprieve from the ban.

NJ single-use plastic bag ban starts today

Shoppers use their own bags at Stop & Shop in Bloomfield. Today is the first day in New Jersey for the ban of single-use plastic bags at all store registers, and paper bags at large grocery stores.Wednesday, May 4, 2022.Patti Sapone | NJ Advance Media

“This sucks. I had to spend $ 10 for all these reusable bags. They took all the bags out, all the Styrofoam cups and plates. What they should at least do for the first week is give you a pair of reusable bags (for free), ”said Rose Zane, a 70-year-old Pennsauken resident.

I should have come yesterday and grabbed a bunch of plastic bags. I like those for garbage bins at home and lunch bags, ”she added, as she loaded up her car at the Walmart in Cherry Hill.

Tanya Norton, of Englewood Cliffs, also hoped for a more gradual transition.

She arrived at the register at Acme with a week’s worth of groceries in her shopping cart and no plastic bags in sight. After some thought, she made the decision to forgo purchasing reusable bags – at least for today – and placed the items directly into her cart instead.

“I thought they would still finish the remaining bags at least, but they just took them all away,” Norton said.

RELATED: NJ’s plastic bag ban starts today. Tips to know before you go to the store.

Catherine Lopez, a 31-year-old resident from Camden, also did not realize the bag ban was in place until she reached the register at Walmart.

“I had no idea,” Lopez said in Spanish while loading her car with soda bottles and paper towels. “I plan to buy reusable bags but today just happened to have extra plastic bags in my trunk I could use.”

Several customers visiting New Jersey grocery stores Wednesday morning either brought in recyclable bags, nylon reusable bags, canvas bags or walked in with plastic bags from their home stash – which the new law permits.

While considered likely the strictest bag ban in the nation, there are still some exceptions.

All stores can continue to provide free produce bags and bags used to package meat or dry cleaning. They can also continue selling garbage bags, Ziploc-style bags, pet waste bags, meat in Styrofoam packaging and egg cartons, some of which are made from polystyrene materials.

Prior to the ban taking effect, grocery stores encouraged shoppers to bring in reusable bags, load up on plastic bags from home, consider greener alternatives or, simply, go bagless.

Some large grocers even gave away free reusable bags prior to the ban’s implementation in an effort to prepare consumers. For example, Stop & Shop locations in New Jersey had a promotion Monday and Tuesday where patrons could receive one free reusable bag each, no purchase required.

But some shoppers were still caught bagless like Carlos Pena, who was visiting the Bloomfield Stop & Shop location on Wednesday morning. Pena loaded his items directly into the shopping cart this time, but said he would rather use plastic bags or even be able to pay for paper bags.

“I do not like it because it’s an inconvenience. I do not mind paying the extra dollar or two, ”he said.

The store is providing its customers with “a few options” if caught unprepared at checkout, said Stefanie Shuman, a Stop & Shop spokesperson who walked NJ Advance Media through the store’s Bloomfield location Wednesday.

Reusable bags that range in price from 50 cents to $ 2.50 can be purchased on-site. The more costly bag, called the “Community Bag,” is insulated and $ 1 from every purchase goes to a local New Jersey charity selected by the store, Shuman said. You can also follow in Pena’s footsteps and forgo the bags altogether.

“Of course, there are a few frustrations, a few hiccups – as with any change,” Shuman said. “But the customers generally today in Bloomfield totally get it.”

RELATED: I’ve lived with a plastic bag ban for 3 years. Here’s my tips on how to get by.

One customer ran into the Wegmans in Cherry Hill bagless. A few minutes later she ran out – broccoli in a produce bag and a loaf of bread already in its own packaging in hand.

Pushing a cart down Aisle 19 at the same Wegmans, Don Hollingsworth said he did not think the new law “made sense.”

“All these (new reusable) bags are going to end up in the ocean and landfill anyway too,” said Hollingsworth, 58, of Haddon Township. “I still have about 3,000 of the single-use plastic bags at home and I plan to sell them.”

Customers can also opt to use canvas bags, laundry baskets, biodegradable bags, tote bags and cardboard boxes.

Although single-use plastic bags can still be purchased online, advocates and experts said the hope is people reduce the amount of plastic they use regularly.

A few stores down from Wegmans at Home Depot, Lydia DeMonsi, a retiree of Cherry Hill, applauded the new ban.

“I’ve been using reusable for a couple months,” she said of her own personal bag ban. However, as she was only picking up flowers and fertilizer Wednesday she did not need any bags.

For more information on the ban visit nj.com/plasticbagban. Still have questions about New Jersey’s plastic bag ban? Ask them here.

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Jackie Roman may be reached at jroman@njadvancemedia.com.

Steven Rodas may be reached at srodas@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @stevenrodasnj.

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