New Jersey’s strictest-in-the-nation single-use bag ban goes into effect in May. But a carve out was signed into law that will give food banks a six-month plastic bag extension and an exemption from the portion of the law prohibiting paper bags.
“This law prevents the plastic and paper bag ban from having unintended, but negative impacts on those who are struggling,” said Assemblywoman Aura Dunn (R-25), a sponsor of the bill. “It offers a sustainable solution that supports these nonprofits and the communities they serve.”
The legislation appropriates $600,000 to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection to pay for 500,000 reusable bags that will be proportionally distributed to food banks and pantries like soup kitchens throughout the state. Food banks will have until November to stop using single-use plastic carryout bags.
Food-Insecure Households Rise
Lawmakers sought the exemption as the financial toll of the COVID-19 pandemic has increased food-insecure households, resulting in higher uses at the food banks and pantries. According to one estimate, over 1.2 million residents in New Jersey live in food-insecure households in 2020.
“Our food banks and food pantries are a huge source of relief for these families, however; distributing food to residents in need often means relying on large quantities of inexpensive carryout bags to distribute the maximum amount of food to as many people possible,” said said State Sen. Bob Smith (D-17) “While the single-use bag ban will greatly reduce plastic waste across the state, it is important that we allow food banks additional time to make the switch to reusable bags so that we don’t hinder their operations.
“We want to ensure that they can continue to deliver food to those who need it the most.”
Increase Due to COVID
Netcong Mayor Joe Nametko noted the town’s community food bank provides meals and supplies to 150 to 175 people on average each week since the second week of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“During weeks leading up to holidays, the number of meals we provide in the way of pre-bagged food items, goes much higher,” Nametko said. “Currently, residents who can afford to purchase their own food are kind enough to bring their used plastic bags to our food bank where they are inspected and eventually re-used.”
“As a member of the Morris County Solid Waste Advisory, I do my best to ensure packaging that finds its way to our food bank is recycled, reused or repurposed. This new law gives us the gift of time to adopt new ways to ensure our operations are not only meeting the law, but our community needs.”
May 4 Bag Ban
The bill to ban bags and other single-use plastic items was signed into law in November 2020, but allowed for an 18-month lead time for stores and consumers to prepare. The ban will likely be the strictest in the nation when it goes into effect May 4, banning all single-use bags at grocery stores over 2,500 square feet. For supporters of the bills, the law is seen as a necessary step to encourage the use of reusable bags by consumers.
“It’s important to make sure we transition away from single-use plastic and paper carryout bags responsibly,” said Assemblyman Raj Mukherji (D-33). “By giving organizations that help fight homelessness and food insecurity more time to prepare for the transition to reusable bags, we can ensure our residents do not lose access to critical resources they need to keep food on their tables.”
To be considered a reusable bag, the bag must have handles, be made of some kind of washable fabric, and withstand 125 uses and multiple washes.
“Reductions in donations due to various supply-chain issues and rising food costs has forced food banks and pantries to dedicate a greater portion of their budget towards purchasing food,” said State Sen. Andrew Zwicker (D-16). “Many food banks and pantries are struggling right now while they work to recover from the pandemic. With this bill, we will provide 500,000 reusable bags and the time needed to make the transition so that they continue to help New Jerseyans in need.”