NJ weighs bringing back paper bags as unwanted reusable bags pile up

Over 50. No wait, definitely at least 100.

Katiuska Tejada-Rivera can’t quite put her finger on the number of reusable bags she’s racked up in the more than four months since New Jersey’s ban on single-use plastic bags began. It’s hard to tell based on how she organizes them – stacked and stuffed into other reusable bags.

“I keep them in the basement,” Tejada-Rivera, a 54-year-old Piscataway mother, told NJ Advance Media. “I have another bag by the door in case I go to the farmer’s market. Most of them are brand new and even have the tag. I use them once but don’t throw them away.

Although she’s a strong supporter of the new state law, hoarding reusable bags through online grocery orders was the setback she didn’t expect. Tejada-Rivera joins many Garden State residents, who since May 4 are finding they have an overabundance of reusable bags — whether from in-person purchases or online orders — that they don’t quite know about. what to do.

New Jersey law prohibits grocery stores in the state from using any type of single-use bags, whether paper or plastic. In-person shoppers can bring their own bags or buy reusable ones. But most major grocery stores and Instacart — which are home to companies like Wegmans, Kings, Aldi, Key Foods and Save A Lot — pack online orders into a new set of reusable bags every time, either providing them for free or by charging them with each order.

“The only issue we’ve had so far (during the ban) is the fact that home grocery delivery has been interpreted to mean you have to do it in a reusable bag and what happens , is that the number of these bags is piling up with customers,” Sen. Bob Smith, D-Middlesex, co-sponsor of the bill to ban plastic bags, said over the phone. We know it’s a problem, we agree it’s a problem.

Smith said one solution could be to change the law to allow New Jersey grocery delivery services to use paper bags or cardboard boxes for online orders.

The state Department of Environmental Protection is also aware that some New Jersey home and curbside delivery customers have “a surplus of reusable carryout bags,” DEP spokesman Larry Hajna said. .

“While curbside and delivery services have grown significantly between the passage and implementation of the law, the Department intends to work with stakeholders and through the Plastics Advisory Council to find innovative ways that would promote the reuse of these bags,” Hajna said.

A spokeswoman for Shipt, the online platform Target and others deliver, said delivery drivers are buying reusable bags at checkout in New Jersey, unless customers choose to go “without bag”. At Walmart, customers also have the option to go bagless when placing an order online (by placing a bin or their own bags on the porch for grocery drop-off) or can purchase reusable blue bags for a fee. a fee of $1 each.

“Walmart has been working to identify alternatives to the single-use plastic bag for several years and to understand the frustration some shoppers have felt with the transition in New Jersey,” a Walmart spokeswoman said, noting that solutions were envisaged for the problem of reusable bags.

“When our reusable bags have reached their end of life, they can be recycled in the plastic recycling containers at the front of our stores,” she added.

But Tejada-Rivera, who primarily uses online shopping because her daughter is a cancer survivor with a weakened immune system, doesn’t want to spend money on reusable bags only to give them up soon after. Not to mention the time, energy and money spent doing this every few weeks, she said.

Smith, chairman of the Senate Environment Committee, told NJ Advance Media that a bill would likely be introduced soon to address the issue.

“We think the solution to the problem is that grocery deliveries can use paper bags and/or cardboard boxes, new or reused…” Smith said. Alternatives would cost less and be easier to dispose of responsibly. However, the law should be changed to allow the use of paper bags which are currently only allowed in small stores and bodegas that occupy less than 2,500 feet.

“Help is on the way because we don’t want to see these reusable bags piling up in customers’ homes,” Smith said.

A customer uses a reusable shopping bag at Supremo Food Market in Jersey City on the day New Jersey’s ban on single-use plastic bags went into effect, Wednesday, May 4, 2022. (Reena Rose Sibayan | The Jersey Log)

What to do with my reusable bags?

To be considered a reusable bag, the bag must have handles, be made of some kind of washable fabric, and withstand 125 multiple uses and washes.

But that doesn’t mean they’re ready for curbside recycling.

“Please don’t put reusable bags in your curbside trash can,” said JoAnn Gemenden, executive director of the New Jersey Clean Communities Council, which has worked with the state to roll out educational tools for the new law. “As a former recycling coordinator, I can attest to the fact that while some bags are recyclable, sorters at MRFs (materials recycling facilities) are not equipped to manually or optically separate reusable bags, and most likely the handles will cause the sorters to jam.

Gemenden suggests looking locally for bins specifically dedicated to the reusable bags you plan to throw away.

What else can you do with your reusable bags?

“It depends on the type of ‘reusable bag.’ If you’re referring to a cloth bag, it can be used for storage in your home,” said Maritza Jaugerui, associate professor of sustainability in the Environmental Studies program at the University. ‘University of Stockton. “You can (also) take them to the store and use them as shopping bags.”

Jaugerui added that, like other environmental policies, those with the fewest financial resources will continue to be hit the hardest as they hoard reusable bags.

“For example, families without a washing machine who use reusable bags,” she said, while referring to the need to sometimes wash reusable bags.

Stop & Shop spokeswoman Stefanie Shuman said the company continues to offer reusable bags at a 2-for-1 dollar rate. Shuman noted that the company is still looking for a solution regarding customers hoarding reusable bags at home.

In the meantime, she said residents can consider donating reusable bags to a local food bank or food pantry. These organizations have been given a six-month reprieve until November 4 before the ban on single-use plastic bags affects them.

Gemenden said the Community FoodBank of New Jersey launched a search tool — with help from Wegmans, Stop & Shop and Wakefern Food Corp. – to allow residents to find a pantry that accepts reusable bags near them.

An Instacart spokesperson said the company is also exploring bag donation options with retail partners, local nonprofits and other groups.

Asked about Smith’s plans to allow grocery deliveries to use paper bags and boxes, an Instacart official said, “As the leading grocery delivery platform, we look forward to further discuss opportunities with lawmakers and other stakeholders on eco-friendly grocery solutions, such as a sustainable alternative single-use bag.

Our journalism needs your support. Please subscribe today to NJ.com.

Steven Rodas can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @stevenrodasnj.

Ethel J. Montes