Produce bags not part of NJ’s plastic bag ban, but consider these alternatives

Before New Jersey’s plastic bag ban takes effect May 4, you may find yourself — shopping cart in tow — wondering what bags, if any, will still be available at grocery stores and delis.

Specifically, will the small loose plastic bags we typically find on rollers in the produce aisles will still be available?

When Gov. Phil Murphy signed the new law in the fall of 2020 he said in 18 months no longer would businesses be allowed to hand out single-use plastic bags, polystyrene food containers, plastic straws and paper bags in New Jersey. The measure is viewed as the strictest stance against single-use plastics in the nation as it also bans paper bags at large grocery stores and many styrofoam containers.

When the ban starts, shoppers will have to bring their own carryout bags, buy reusable bags or go bagless.

But not all bags will be banned once the law takes effect.

Will small plastic bags for fruits and veggies still be available?

Yes. According to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, exceptions to the plastic bag ban include:

  • A bag used to package loose items such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, coffee, grains, baked goods, candy, greeting cards, flowers, bulk food, or small hardware items.
  • A bag used to contain or wrap uncooked meat, fish, or poultry.
  • A bag used as to contain or live animals, such insects sold in a pet store.
  • A bag used soup or prepared to contain food sliced ​​or order, including hot food.
  • A laundry, dry cleaning, or garment bag.
  • A bag provided by a pharmacy to carry prescription drugs.
  • A bag for newspapers.
  • Any similar bag, as determined by the DEP pursuant to rule, regulation, or guidance.

“The bags used for produce are permissible under the new law and will still be available for produce,” Karen O’Shea, a ShopRite spokeswoman, said in a statement.

RELATED: NJ’s strictest in the nation ban on single-use bags takes effect soon. What you need to know.

Stop & Shop in Union. Beginning May 4, 2022, grocery stores, food service businesses and other retail stores in New Jersey are prohibited from providing or selling customers with single-use plastic carryout bags.Tuesday, March 29, 2022.Patti Sapone | NJ Advance Media

Does the size of the store impact these exceptions?

No. The exceptions apply to all stores.

Small grocery stores — anything under 2,500 square feet — can continue to give out paper bags as well as small plastic bags for vegetables and fruits.

According to a trade publication, most grocery stores are between 12,000 and 40,000 square feet.

Should I still consider using alternatives?

Yes. Re-usable bags are the way to go, experts told NJ Advance Media.

Besides being better for the environment, they can be more practical too, said Sandra Suarez, biology professor at Ramapo College and director of the school’s Upward Bound Math Science program.

“I think a lot of it has to do with getting used it … you may not (want to) put your apples in your cart with (other items). But it can be kind of strange, you’re basically using the bags to transport what you bought back to your house,” said Suarez, noting that many of these items are already in their own packaging.

“I put my fruits and vegetables in a bag inside my refrigerator but there’s really no reason why I feel like I have to do that. It keeps my refrigerator cleaner, but I think it’s just habit, right? I’ve switched to reusable nylon and other mesh bags for potatoes and onions but it again it has to do with remembering to bring the re-usable bags when I go shopping … I think all of this really just boils down to habit,” she added.

Stefanie Shuman, a spokeswoman for Stop & Shop, said like other major supermarket brands in New Jersey, their stores will provide re-usable bags for customers to buy.

“Stop & Shop offers an array of high-quality, durable reusable grocery bags,” Shuman said. “Our most popular are our 2 for $1 reusables which come in a variety of prints. We also have a reusable community bag available; one dollar from the purchase of every community bag is donated to a local charity.”

Do any states ban small plastic bags for veggies and fruits?

No.

All 10 other states — California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington — that have passed some form of a single-use plastic ban, have continued to provide the small bags for produce items.

However, many states encourage residents to find ways to re-use these bags.

Suarez said among the potential uses are storage for other items at home, dog waste, as well as future produce purchases.

“I think for convenience and not having to wash things as often, we’ve introduced (plastic) into our lives that is damaging the environment,” Suarez said.

“If we wanted to really see its demise, it might require a little rinsing and washing. That would probably take care of maybe 50% of our plastic-use … It’s a lifestyle change, and if people want to see an environmental change, they really have to accept a lifestyle change,” she said.

What are some alternative reusable produce bags?

Alternatives to produce bags include naturally-compostable “biobags,” lightweight tote bags, mesh grocery bags or linen bread bags.

You can also choose to go bagless, use laundry bags, stock your trunk with a re-usable cardboard box or re-use the plastic bags you have at home. For those looking to be creative, try one of dozens of the “no sew bag” tutorials available online to make a tote from household items.

Here are some re-usable bags you can buy online:

Still have questions about New Jersey’s plastic bag ban? Ask them here.

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

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