Log In

Reset Password

Opinion: N.J. plastic bag ban affects shore visitors

If you’re planning a week at the New Jersey shore this summer, there is one more important item you will need to consider before heading for fun in the sun and sand - New Jersey’s new plastic bags law.

As of May 4, single-use plastic bags are banned at all store registers, and single-use paper bags are banned at large grocery stores. Gov. Phil Murphy signed the bill into law in November of 2020, but the law provided an 18-month grace period before it became enforceable to allow consumers and store officials to properly prepare for the significant change.

Even so, many Garden State residents were caught by surprise when the law finally took effect earlier this month. The New Jersey law is considered to be the strictest in the United States because it’s the only one that bans paper bags at grocery stores and supermarkets. Other states which have bans on plastic bags allow for paper bags, either for free or a small fee.

In addition, the new law also bans polystyrene materials and also limits when straws can be distributed.

The way it is now in Pennsylvania, for example, a server is most likely to automatically bring you a straw with a cold beverage whether you requested one or not. (I don’t know about you, but I rarely use straws, so mine sits there unopened. State sanitary rules require that this straw be disposed of even though it is not removed from its sealed wrapper.)

While this new way of life will obviously impact New Jersey residents most directly, it also means that the thousands of local residents who take shore vacations or who visit family who live in the Garden State will be impacted, too.

So here is some helpful information to help you deal with the new law:

When you check out of a store, giving out or selling single-use plastic bags is banned. Paper bags are not allowed at grocery stores, but nongrocery and retail stores can still provide paper bags.

You may be asking what you should do when you go grocery shopping. Take your own reusable bags. If you don’t have any, you can buy some at the register, or you can carry out whatever you buy without a bag. You can always cart whatever you buy directly to your vehicle.

In announcing the rules, state officials say that if you have stockpiled single-use or paper bags, you can take them with you to be used when checking out. There is no limit on these.

They explained that the concept is to get people to reduce plastic consumption.

If you are wondering what the definition of a “reusable bag is,” here is what the state law says: It must have handles, be made of a washable fabric and withstand a minimum of 125 uses along with multiple washes. Anything made of plastic, regardless of its thickness, is not deemed “reusable.”

The new law has no impact on using plastic bags inside of private properties or shore rentals.

If you have a large number of single-use plastic bags that you’ve been saving, you can still use them for wastebaskets or picking up pet waste.

When they are gone, you can buy garbage bags in stores, although officials are suggesting that you buy compostable bags.

State officials said it will take some time before stores and consumers get the hang of all of the provisions involved in the new law, and there are sure to be some hiccups along the way, but consider this column your warning about what to expect once you settle in at Cape May, Wildwood, Seaside Heights or Ocean City and need to make a grocery run.

By Bruce Frassinelli | tneditor@tnonline.com

The foregoing opinions do not necessarily reflect the views of the Editorial Board or Times News LLC.