The list of pros and cons to New Jersey’s upcoming plastic bag ban will inevitably vary from person to person.
Maybe you’re already into environmentally friendly habits and are counting down the days to May 4 with glee. Or, conversely, you’re dreading the loss of the nifty multi-purpose plastic bags, which will soon disappear from grocery stores and restaurants.
And then there are those still trying to wrap their head around the ban — and please keep sending questions along!
With less than two weeks until the ban starts, we spoke to experts, compiled comments, and reviewed the new rules to lay out five ways the bag ban will change your life — for better and worse.
1. You’ll forget the ban is happening
People will forget in early May that this is starting at all.
Walking from the parking lot to the supermarket entrance, you’ll forget to take your reusable bags from the car.
Even worse: You’ll arrive at the register before you realize you have to shell out cash for reusable bags because you don’t have any or forgot your own at home.
“I’m sure everybody will be at least a little frustrated or very frustrated because of the convenience of just walking into the store and having those bags there perpetually free,” said Louise Wootton, professor of biology at Georgian Court University.
Although 7 in 10 residents know stores will soon not be allowed to hand out single-use plastic bags just a third say they know “a lot” about the ban, according to a new poll released by Monmouth University. And just 28% of residents know the ban will include paper bags at most grocery stores (anything over 2,500 square feet), the poll found.
Kerrie Sendall, an assistant biology professor at Rider University, said practice makes perfect.
“When I started (my own personal plastic bag ban) I would forget my reusable bags, then have to leave my cart in the store and go outside and grab my bags and come back in,” said Sendall, laughing. “But now I have it in my memory.”
2. You’ll see less litter
Part of the efforts behind New Jersey’s strict ban include reducing the amount of litter that piles up throughout parks, becomes eye sores along highways and harms marine life in waterways.
Of the 4.2 million tons of plastic bags, sacks and wraps generated in 2018, 420,000 were recycled, according to the US Department of Environmental Protection Agency.
And when New Jersey-based environmental nonprofit Clean Ocean Action released its annual Beach Sweeps report, it found plastic made up 82% of the debris collected in 2021.
Bottom line, working reusable alternatives into our everyday lives will cut down on single-use bags and should mean cleaner public areas, experts told NJ Advance Media.
“I love hiking. I love going out to our parks and walking along the shore in Cape May, Asbury Park, and other places. One thing I see is single-use plastic garbage everywhere. I see it in the river. I see it in lakes and ponds, and I see wildlife interacting with it,” said Matthew Schuler, an assistant biology professor at Montclair State University.
“Once we get past the first few months or maybe even the first year, we’ll hopefully see that pollution is reduced by a lot,” he added.
RELATED: NJ plastic bag ban: 23 answers to your urgent questions
3. You’ll have fewer free bags for your pets and trash bins
The loss of single-use plastic bags at most stores in the Garden State will mean fewer free bags for your personal stash at home — and all the ways that makes your life easier.
While you could order more online, advocates hope residents explore sustainable alternatives. But that doesn’t mean it won’t be tough to kick the habit of re-purposing those plastic bags — which are great to line garbage bins in bathrooms, bedrooms, and small offices.
If you’re a pet owner, you may also be used to collecting cat litter in plastic bags or stuffing one in your pocket while taking your dog out on a walk to pick up droppings.
But as you run out of bags from your personal collection, consider alternatives, experts said. You could use produce bags, which will not be part of the plastic bag ban. Or consider one of the following options:
4. Sustainability will get easier
Those who have long hopped on the sustainability train will have a much easier go of it starting May 4.
Exhibit A: One professor’s trip to a New Jersey pet store earlier this year.
“I had an actual argument with a guy at (the pet store) because I took out my (reusable) bag and I said, ‘I have my own bag’ but without thinking he took my stuff and he put it in a plastic bag anyway,” said Sandra Suarez, biology professor at Ramapo College and director of the school’s Upward Bound Math Science program.
Recalling the exchange, Suarez said when she insisted her purchases be placed in her own bag the clerk placed the plastic bag he’d used into the garbage bin.
She said some store employees are very understanding when you bring in reusable bags. Sometimes, you need to be quick, lest clerks bag your purchase before you know it and waste a bag, she noted.
“We’re trying to do this for the good of the environment and that slight inconvenience for you but it’s really not a big deal,” Suarez said. “We can all suck it up, you know.”
Sendall, a professor at Rider University, said she was also looking forward to the paradigm shift of May 4 – when things will flip and opting to use a reusable bag will become the norm.
5. You’ll be frustrated by the law
It will dawn on some of us that paper bags and Styrofoam containers are also included in the ban. For places — like small bodegas, restaurants and delis — that can still provide paper bags, headaches will come in the form of store runs on rainy days when these bags tend to get soggy and rip easily.
Eating out will come with its own changes. According to the law, eateries must serve or deliver food in plastic, paper or aluminum containers — no Styrofoam — and can provide plastic straws only when requested.
Anyone commuting across the Hudson River to New York or the Delaware River to Philadelphia will also be bound to scratch their heads at how those states have their own version of plastic bans. Navigating the differences may take some getting used to. In New York for instance, paper bags are still OK everywhere, including large grocery stores. And Philadelphia — unlike New Jersey — previously set a deadline for bringing in plastic bags from your personal at-home stash.
“There are going to be people at the front of line at the grocery store who aren’t informed (of the bag ban). I think this is why businesses will need to get awareness up early,” said William Pennock, an assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at NJIT’s Newark College of Engineering.
However, some things, Pennock noted, will just be a matter of habit.
That will include getting better at eye balling how many reusable bags you’ll need when you leave the house (hint: overshoot it), getting accustomed to how grocery online orders will work (it’s still up in the air), and learning how to best wash and maintain reusable bags.
For more information on the ban visit nj.com/plasticbagban. Still have questions about New Jersey’s plastic bag ban? Ask them here.
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Steven Rodas may be reached at email@example.com.