How shopping at supermarkets will change once the NJ plastic and paper bag ban starts

·8 min read

Your trip to the grocery store is about to drastically change.

Supermarket cashiers will no longer load your cart with plastic bags filled with your purchased canned goods, cleaning products or ice cream. You won't get a paper bag either.

Instead, you'll need to bring your own bags or buy a reusable bag at the store.

Why?

On May 4, New Jersey will implement the strictest carryout bag ban in the nation, following through on a law signed by Gov. Phil Murphy about 18 months ago.

Stop & Shop of Brick is prepared for the May 4th day when paper and plastic bags will be gone
Stop & Shop of Brick is prepared for the May 4th day when paper and plastic bags will be gone

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Laying down the law

First, here's what the law restricts, and what it doesn't.

It covers all carryout plastic bags, regardless of thickness, that are handed out at retail establishments. There are some exceptions: you'll still be able to get a plastic bag when you select your fresh fruits, vegetables, loose nuts, coffee and baked goods, or order your store-sliced deli items and fresh uncooked meats and fish.

A paper bag ban was pushed by the New Jersey Food Council, the supermarket lobby. During a legislative hearing, representatives said paper bags were an additional cost for supermarkets and took up more space than plastic. The trade group also said allowing paper bags doesn't address consumers' reliance on single-use products.

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Stores that have grocery sections that are larger than 2,500 square feet, such as giant retailers Walmart, Costco and Target, can't give out paper bags either.

Now markets are working to get customers ready, putting up signs, handing out information and sending emails. They're selling reusable bags for customers who forget or don't bring enough to the store.

About three months ago, Rastelli Market Fresh, which has stores in Marlton and Deptford, sent out an email about the change and posted on social media. The stores have used paper, not plastic, bags.

"A lot of people that didn't understand it were inquiring when they came into the store," said Chris Mentzer, Rastelli's director of operations. A state bulletin outlining the ban is posted in the stores. "It's a state mandate. It's not our mandate," he said.

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The ban on plastic and paper bags at your neighborhood supermarket begins on May 4th
The ban on plastic and paper bags at your neighborhood supermarket begins on May 4th

There are signs throughout the stores, including at the registers. Notices are being stuffed in bags too.

"We have been strategically moving signs throughout the store and making sure they are in the high traffic spots, at the deli or the meat department," Mentzer said.

Customers can buy cloth bags, at the store's cost, starting at 99 cents, he added.

Nature's Corner Natural Market, which has stores in West Long Branch and Spring Lake Heights, has used plastic or paper bags for years, a convenience for customers. To encourage customers to bring their own bags, the store has offered a 25-cent discount for each bag used on their order.

Ed Levy, owner of Nature's Corner Natural Market in Spring Lake Heights
Ed Levy, owner of Nature's Corner Natural Market in Spring Lake Heights

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Owner Ed Levy welcomes the mandate. He's selling reusable canvas shopping bags at cost, and will continue to give the 25-cent per bag discount to customers.

"We are a landmark of all things healthy in the community, and we have been promoting compostable items and reusable items since we opened," Levy said. "The removal of plastic bags, and even paper bags, is like a dream come true for us.

"Now in essence, it puts the customer in the position where they have no choice but to use the bags that they already have in their house or their garage," he said.

Customers also will have the option to buy a canvas shopping bag at cost for $1.99 or $2.99. They also can use a cardboard box, reused from the store's deliveries, for free.

With a plastic bag ban already in place in Paramus, customers at Stew Leonard's will now have to say goodbye to paper bags. It is going to be a "big transition for our shoppers," said Nevin Philip, the store's vice president. "Actually. the biggest thing for us right now is customer awareness."

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Stop & Shop of Brick is prepared for the May 4th day when paper and plastic bags will be gone
Stop & Shop of Brick is prepared for the May 4th day when paper and plastic bags will be gone

Supermarkets also are having to consider other logistics, such as what happens when a customer places an online order for curbside pickup? The law was passed before the onset of the pandemic, which made online orders far more popular.

Until the ban takes place, those orders often are fulfilled with paper or plastic bags. Different stores are doing their own thing.

"Curbside is a real problem," said Lou Scaduto Jr., chief executive officer of Middletown-based Food Circus Supermarkets, which owns five Super Foodtown supermarkets in Monmouth County. "I think that is the largest obstacle to get over."

Two of his stores, one in Red Bank and the other in Atlantic Highlands, already operate under a municipal ban on so-called single-use plastic bags.

So Scaduto said store employees may collect customers' bags from their cars, bring groceries out in a cart for bagging at the car, or pack groceries in a box. At the Red Bank store on Tuesday, a hand truck was stacked with boxes.

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Meanwhile, state Sen. Kristin Corrado, R-Passaic, has drafted legislation that would exempt online orders for curbside pickup or delivery from the plastic and paper bag ban.

"Clearly, this was never a consideration when the law was passed, and until we have a better way to make it work under the bag ban, it makes sense to pump the brakes a bit and allow deliveries to continue as usual,” Corrado said in a statement.

Stop & Shop of Brick is prepared for the May 4th day when paper and plastic bags will be gone
Stop & Shop of Brick is prepared for the May 4th day when paper and plastic bags will be gone

Here is what some supermarkets say they are doing:

The ShopRite on Route 35 in Middletown.
The ShopRite on Route 35 in Middletown.

ShopRite

In store signs are reminding customers to "plan for the ban" and to bring reusable bags to the store, ShopRite spokesperson Karen O'Shea said. "Our goal is to encourage all our customers to bring their reusable bags to the store when they shop, but we will also offer a reusable bag option at checkout for customers who forget to bring their own totes after the new law takes effect in May."

In an email to customers, ShopRite said: "At stores that offer online shopping, pickup and delivery orders will be charged a flat fee of $1.50, which covers as many reusable bags as needed for the entire order."

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Stop & Shop of Brick is prepared for the May 4th day when paper and plastic bags will be gone
Stop & Shop of Brick is prepared for the May 4th day when paper and plastic bags will be gone

Stop & Shop

Stop & Stop is using signs and announcements over in-store radio to make customers aware of the bag ban, spokesperson Stefanie Shuman said. The store also will have reusable grocery bag for sale, including a variety that cost $1 for two. Pick-up and delivery orders will be charged a $2 reusable bag fee.

For more on Stop & Shop, see the video at the top of this story.

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Whole Foods in Marlboro.
Whole Foods in Marlboro.

Whole Foods Market

Whole Foods, which uses paper bags now, will sell reusable grocery bags at the store's checkout. Grocery pickup and delivery orders will come in reusable bags at no charge, a Whole Foods Market spokesperson said.

The produce department at Walmart in Brick.
The produce department at Walmart in Brick.

Walmart

Retail giant Walmart is "working to roll out bag-free pickup options alongside our efforts to explore the viability of reducing single-use plastic bags at checkout," the company said in a statement.

Customers will be able to buy a variety of reusable bags, starting at a price of 50 cents.

From May 4 to May 31, customers who use Walmart's grocery delivery or express delivery options, including Walmart+ members, will receive their items delivered in free reusable bags, Walmart said. Starting on June 1, Walmart will transition to bagless delivery and customers will be asked to leave their reusable bags or containers out for their delivery drop-off.

Walmart customers who use grocery pickup will see reminders on the app to bring their reusable bags to their pickup appointment.

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Wegmans

Customers are being informed about the bag ban via signs inside the stores and email reminders, a spokeswoman said.

Bag reminder signs also are placed throughout parking lots and store entrances.

"When the state ban goes into effect, we will use reusable bags to fulfill all online grocery orders at a charge of 35 cents per bag," spokeswoman Marcie Rivera said in an email.

Dave Tober, a Brick shopper, remembered when reusable bags first became available.

"I thought it was kind of ridiculous (and) inconvenient,” Tober said. “But then I started shopping at Aldi and Lidl, which require you to bring your own bag or paper bags.”

Once he switched over, he said he realized how much clutter and garbage resulted from the single-use bags. “It’s just unnecessary mess,” said Tober, 56.

Staff writers Amanda Oglesby and Scott Fallon contributed to this report.

David P. Willis: dwillis@gannettnj.com

This article originally appeared on Asbury Park Press: NJ bag ban: How buying groceries and shopping trips will change