New Jersey’s single-use bag ban will soon take effect. Are stores and shoppers ready?

The ban, which includes both paper and plastic bags, is one of the strictest in the country.
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Francis Scialabba

· 4 min read

New Jersey shoppers are in for a major bag alert next week—not from DJ Khaled and Migos, but their local grocery stores.

Come May 4, the nation’s strictest carryout bag ban will take effect, barring all retailers in the state from distributing single-use plastic bags, and grocery stores bigger than 2,500 square feet from offering paper bags.

  • So no, the iconic Trader Joe’s paper bags aren’t an exception…but those plastic bags for produce and ones for wrapping uncooked meat are.

The ban was signed into law in November 2020, but is going into effect nearly 18 months later to give stores enough time to prepare.

Ban-aid: JoAnn Gemenden, executive director of the NJ Clean Communities Council, told Retail Brew the state has been preparing retailers and consumers for the ban through a statewide education campaign called Bag Up NJ, which was introduced in May 2021. It’s been working alongside the New Jersey Food Council, an alliance of the state’s food retailers and suppliers, to establish communications initiatives.

  • It has a downloadable kit available on its website for retailers, containing imagery for web banners, social media posts, and sandwich boards, plus audio PSAs. (We see you, procrastinators: Traffic to its website has grown nearly 500% since January.)
  • The campaign itself has also been advertising all over the state, including at the DMV and on New Jersey Transit buses.
  • Plus, Bag Up NJ gave out ~4,000 bags at an NJ DPS Earth Day event last week, part of an effort to reach “overburdened communities” who may not have access to, or be able to afford, reusable bags, Gemenden said.

Mixed bag: For many multi-state retailers, a bag ban is nothing new, as New Jersey is the ninth state to bar them.

  • Northeastern grocery chain Wegmans, for one, announced earlier this month that it will ditch plastic bags chainwide by the end of 2021, a move enacted at 61 stores thus far. The grocer found that 20%–25% shoppers opt for paper bags (which it’s charging five cents for), while the rest chose reusables or go bagless.

But these laws can come at a cost, especially for small retailers. After New York enacted its bag ban in 2020, bodega owners shared with the New York Post that they could purchase 600 single-use plastic bags for $11, while 200 paper bags cost as much as $50. A yarn-shop owner in New Jersey told Asbury Park Press this week that a quote for 250 reusable bags was $300.

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There are also some nuances of the law that New Jersey is still fielding questions about. For e-commerce orders, some retailers are charging per bag, while others are charging a standard fee, Gemenden said. Instacart told Retail Brew that it has worked with its New Jersey retail partners to make sure that low-cost reusable bags will be available for purchase, and the total bag cost will be included as a bag-fee charge listed on the customer’s receipt.

A handle on it: Stefanie Shuman, external communications manager at Ahold Delhaize-owned supermarket chain Stop & Shop, told us that the paper-bag aspect may be one that customers struggle with the most, especially if they’re used to paying a nickel for them in New York.

“Like any change, anything new, there’s going to be a trial-and-error period,” Shuman said. “So of course, there’s going to be a few stumbling blocks with customers, but generally they understand that plastic and paper are going away.”

  • A poll released by Monmouth University last week found that just one-third of New Jersey residents say they know “a lot” about the ban, and 28% knew it covered paper bags.

In April, Stop & Shop began its own efforts to prepare shoppers within its 58 Garden State stores, Shuman said. Reminders can be found on cart corrals and even printed on receipt tape, while associates have been asked to remind customers at checkout.

  • ShopRite, which is based in New Jersey and operates 185 stores in the state, introduced its own “plan for the ban” campaign last year. While it encourages shoppers to bring their own bags, ShopRite spokesperson Karen O’Shea said it will have reusable totes available for purchase.

On May 2 and 3, Shuman said all Stop & Shop locations will be distributing one free reusable bag per customer—at least, until they run out. The company also has reusables available for purchase, and is upping its supply to prepare for the ban. Its most popular option is its two-for-$1 bags, she said.

+1: As for what will happen to Stop & Shop’s extra stock of paper and plastic bags? Those will go to food banks. In March, Governor Phil Murphy signed a bill granting pantries a six-month extension before they have to make the switch. The retailer will also be setting up in-store bins to collect shoppers’ excess reusables that’ll then be donated, Shuman added.

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