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11/05/2020

New Jersey bans plastic and paper bags in one of nation’s most stringent laws

Marianne Wilson
Editor-in-Chief
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Supermarkets in New Jersey will no longer be able to give paper bags to customers starting in mid-2022.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy has signed a law prohibiting N.J. retailers and other businesses from handing out single-use paper and plastic bags, single-use plastic carryout bags and polystyrene foam containers. The law, which is being called one of the toughest of its kind in the country, goes into effect in May 2022. 

In addition, food-service businesses will no longer be able to hand out plastic straws, unless requested by a customer, starting in November 2021.

The bans apply to a variety of businesses, including restaurants, convenience stores, food trucks, movie theaters and grocery stores that are 2,500 sq. ft. or larger. There are some exception to the law, including waivers when “there is no feasible and commercially available alternative for a specific polystyrene foam food service product” or if a business has less than $500,000 in annual income.  

The ban also does not apply to reusable carryout bags, defined in the bill as those made out of polypropylene, or nylon, cloth, hemp and other washable fabrics

(See end of article for other exemptions.)

Stores or restaurants violating the law, which will be overseen by the Department of Environmental Protection, will be subject to a first-time warning. There is a $1,000 fine for the second violation and $5,000 fines for every violation after that. The collected fines will go to a community fund that pays for litter clean-up grants across New Jersey.

“Plastic bags are one of the most problematic forms of garbage, leading to millions of discarded bags that stream annually into our landfills, rivers, and oceans," Murphy said in a statement. "With today's historic bill signing, we are addressing the problem of plastic pollution head-on with solutions that will help mitigate climate change and strengthen our environment for future generations."

The following products will be exempt from the ban until 2024:

Disposable, long-handled polystyrene foam soda spoons when required and used for thick drinks;
•    Portion cups of 2 ounces or less, if used for hot foods or foods requiring lids;
•    Meat and fish trays for raw or butchered meat, including poultry, or fish that is sold from a refrigerator or similar retail appliance;
•    Any food product pre-packaged by the manufacturer with a polystyrene foam food service product; and
•    Any other polystyrene foam food service product as determined necessary by Department of Environmental Protection.