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Bag ban

Shotgun shells, bottle caps, microplastics, balloons, straws, plastic bags, cigarette butts. This isn’t a random list, it’s what’s typically found during beach cleanups in our area. After May 4, at least one of those items may appear (a lot) less often.

The plastic and paper bag ban from the State of New Jersey goes into effect that day to help curb single uses and keep the litter from ending up in our oceans, stuck in our trees, or blowing around streets.
“On November 4, 2020, Governor Phil Murphy and the New Jersey Legislature enacted the most progressive bag ban law in the country. The law prevents litter and encourages the use of reusable bags by phasing out single-use plastic and paper bags” according to, a website helping with the transition to reusable bags in the state.
People who live, work, stay, and vacation in New Jersey are being asked to bring reusable bags for their shopping. This is a good rule of thumb to follow, but some businesses will still be allowed to provide bags.
The ban also has no impact on plastic or paper bags for sale, such as lunch bags, trash bags, pet waste bags, and Ziploc-style bags. And there are plenty of other exemptions, for instance, you’ll still be able to get a bag for uncooked meat, fish, or poultry, loose items like nuts, coffee, grains, baked goods, greeting cards, bulk foods, live animals such as fish or insects, laundry, dry cleaning, or garment bags, and newspapers.
Here’s a breakdown of the differences between industries based on the new guidelines.

Grocery stores that are 2,500 square feet or larger cannot provide single use plastic or paper bags at checkout, curbside delivery, or home delivery, even for a nominal fee. Consumers have two options- buy reusable bags at the grocery store or bring your own bags from home. Though some items are exempt from the bag ban, the state is encouraging customers to consider reusable bags for these also whenever possible.
Restaurants can give customers single use paper bags, but not plastic bags. Food can be served and delivered in plastic, paper, or aluminum containers. As always, customers can bring a reusable bag to use at restaurants. These guidelines also apply to fast food restaurants.
Pharmacies can use single use plastic bags for prescriptions but cannot provide single use plastic bags for other items. They can give customers paper bags.
Retail stores can provide single use paper bags but no single use plastic bags.

Bowfish Kids, 956 Asbury Avenue, Ocean City, has always given customers paper bags, instead of plastic. But this new law and their other sustainability practices have made them even more conscious of their impact on the planet. They recently debuted new paper bags to use for merchandise.
“This has been a four-month process. We have always used paper bags because I’ve never been a plastic fan. Over the last few years through our sustainability initiatives, we’ve been looking into things we sell and use,” said owner Caitlin Quirk.
Their new bags are made from recycled paper and cardboard.
“We realized we were being toxic in our process, and we didn’t even know. We were using regular wall paint to paint the bags. The paint is a super toxic substance for the environment. Our graphic designer, Olivia, headed the project. We researched different inks that you can use. We found a supplier that deals in algae ink. It’s fully sustainable and growing algae helps to remove CO2 in the atmosphere,” said Caitlin.
She’s seen firsthand how plastic bags affect recycling. Despite seeming like they should be recyclable, plastic bags are not and cause problems for the system.
“I went and toured the Cape May County recycling facility. The biggest problem is that the plastic bags can’t be recycled and if they get in the recycle machine, it breaks the machine because they’re so thin. It’s preventing those bags from going into the system,” said Caitlin.
Fortunately, most big grocery stores will collect used bags right in the shop for recycling. Empty out your “bag drawer,” and drop them next time you’re buying groceries. The easiest way to be prepared for the upcoming ban, is to plan ahead. Purchase reusable bags that are compact and lightweight, and pack them in your car so they are always on hand. To paraphrase Neil Armstrong, this is one small step for man, one giant leap for the planet.

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Find this story and others in the May magazine

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