Paper bags inch closer to making a return in N.J. for online orders, curbside as bill advances

Published: Oct. 06, 2022

You may soon be able to once again shop online for groceries and opt for paper bags in New Jersey.

The state Senate Environment Committee advanced a bill Thursday that would bring back paper bags for online orders and curbside pick-up in the Garden State — a significant shift to the state’s strict single-use plastic bag ban that went into affect May 4.

More than five months after the ban began, online shoppers say they have accumulated piles of reusable bags, which they are either provided with during each order or must buy now. According to the ban, single-use plastic bags are not allowed and paper bags are no longer an option for most grocery stores and all big box stores.

The new bill, S-3114, would allow grocery stores in New Jersey to give customers the option of having their purchases delivered in paper bags as long as they are made of 40% post-consumer recycled content, cardboard boxes — similar to how some shoppers carry out items from Costco — or dropped off in a container left out by the customer.

The measure would require stores in the state to take back excess reusable bags, which they must then reuse or recycle. A new addition to the bill, based on feedback provided to state lawmakers, would also provide stores the option of donating those reusable bags to food pantries.

“We had proposed a five-year exemption for paper bags and cardboard boxes. That was cut down to three years and that’s because the testimony was that the industry can do this. They can react to it and put together better (container alternatives) in a faster period of time, so don’t make it too long,” state Sen. Bob Smith, D-Middlesex, who co-sponsored the legislation with Kristen Corrado, R-Passaic, told NJ Advance Media on Thursday after the hearing.

“This was always a work in progress,” added Smith, co-sponsor of the law to ban plastic bags.

The bill would need to be passed by both the state Senate and Assembly before the governor could decide whether to sign it into law. The Senate is next scheduled to meet on Oct. 17 and the Assembly on Oct. 27.

Smith said the bill does not include a refund for the reusable bags customers must currently pay — which can be anywhere from $1 to $3 per bag — with each order.

Under the new proposal, food pantries would also have their reprieve from the bag ban extended to January 2023.

Linda Doherty, president and CEO of the NJ Food Council, which represents about 1,400 supermarkets, independent grocers, and convenience stores, called the latest amendment to the bag ban “a setback.”

“The bill proposes impractical changes to New Jersey’s reusable bag law and will unravel the success that has occurred over the past five months in reducing single-use waste,” Doherty told NJ Advance Media.

“Before the Legislature begins exploring amendments to the law, policymakers must understand the law is working,” Doherty said. “It was intended to eliminate single-use paper and plastic bags, and New Jersey food retailers have done just that by eliminating over 13 million single-use paper bags and 688 million plastic bags per month from the waste stream.”

Smith lauded the progress of the bag ban so far based on the NJ Food Council’s data and added that “modifications” to the ban were always expected.

“In an ideal world, stores would be able to sanitize and keep deploying reusable bags for their home delivery programs like farm share deliveries and reuse waxed cardboard boxes,” Ed Potosnak, Executive Director of New Jersey League of Conservation Voters, said in a statement. “However, while stores adapt to this change, we understand there may be some need for single-use recyclable paper bags.”

Based on an October 2022 phone survey by Maryland-based firm, Scarlet Oak Strategies, which included 500 New Jerseyans 18 or older, 50% of respondents accumulated more than 10 reusable bags in the past three months and 90% were in support for the state to go a step further and once again provide in-store paper bags at checkout.

State Sen. Michael Testa, R-Cumberland, said at the end of September that he also would be in favor of paper bags (which currently are only allowed in stores that are below 2,500 square feet) in all stores regardless of size.

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published this page in News and Politics 2022-10-07 02:22:46 -0700