TRENTON, N.J. – Restaurants, fisheries, and food markets in South Jersey are eager to abide by New Jersey’s not-so-clear-cut law banning single-use plastic carryout bags starting May 4. In an attempt to address common questions and resolve confusion, southern shore region lawmakers, Sen. Michael Testa, Assemblymen Antwan McClellan and Erik Simonsen and Assemblywoman Claire Swift, hosted a Zoom call Wednesday with area businesses and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.
“Many businesses have reached out to our legislative offices wondering how the law will impact the way they operate. These businesses handle raw fish, sell loose candies, serve takeout and want to make sure they comply with the law while still meeting customer needs,” McClellan (R-Cape May) said. “Bringing everyone together over Zoom to discuss the law also established connections between government and business.”
Grocery stores and food service businesses will be prohibited from selling or providing single-use plastic or paper carryout bags to customers when the law goes into effect. However, as the Zoom call revealed, there are carve-outs, including small plastic bags for hot soups and stews, produce bags, raw meat packaging, stores under a certain square footage and more.
“The laws written in Trenton have real-life consequences for our small businesses along the boardwalk and Main Street. This Zoom call organized by District 1 legislators was an attempt to cut through the bureaucracy and get accurate and timely answers to our hardworking business owners,” Testa (R-Cumberland) said. “I think it helped both the DEP to hear commonly-asked questions they might not have considered and our businesses to have the law explained.”
In advance of the law that goes into effect in three weeks, shore towns like Cape May, Stone Harbor, Somers Point, Brigantine and several others, passed ordinances that prohibited single-use plastic bags. As a result, businesses invested in more durable recycled plastic bags that could be used more than 100 times before needing to be discarded. Now, many are being told they will need to apply for a temporary exemption, send their bag in for review by the DEP or invest in an entirely new carryout solution.
“It’s so important to see the bigger picture when it comes to actually implementing well-intentioned, but overly restrictive laws,” Simonsen (R-Cape May) said. “Many of our communities proactively instituted sustainable solutions to the single-use plastic bag issue. Unfortunately, because they do not technically meet the law’s definition of reusable, they are no longer permitted. Working with the DEP, our hope is that businesses will be able to find a product that fits their needs and budget and meets the law.”
During the hour-long call, DEP officials fielded questions from business owners about what bags were classified as single-use, if they could provide plastic condiment cups, how to determine acceptable packaging for certain foods and more.
“If there is one thing that is certain, it is that our businesses want to provide their customers with the best products and services while properly interpreting the law,” Swift (R-Atlantic) said. “It is best to prepare for these changes ahead of a busy summer season, so that businesses can protect their bottom lines while managing customer’s expectations.”