Distributors struggle to prepare for NJ's single-use plastics ban amid global supply shortages

The Garden State’s bag ban has left a dilemma for grocery delivery services

SOUTH JERSEY (KYW Newsradio) — The question of “paper or plastic?” at the supermarket will soon end in New Jersey.

The state’s ban on most single-use plastics takes effect May 4, and stores won’t be allowed to provide customers with bags. Customers will need to bring or buy their own reusable ones, and it is bringing a dilemma for food delivery services as well.

New Jersey’s ban on plastics is the strictest in the nation, also preventing restaurants from using styrofoam containers for takeout.

Brandon Spector, managing director of Supply It All in Vineland, a major distributor of restaurant supplies, said preparing for the new law on top of a global supply shortage has been challenging, to say the least. Items that normally took a week or two to arrive at a warehouse are now two months behind schedule.

“A lot of the domestic manufacturers have just fallen short with the products that can become alternatives and be used in our state,” he said.

His company provides packaging materials for thousands of businesses in the region, and he’s urging customers to be patient as the new rules take effect.

“All of the restaurant owners and food purveyors are trying to do the best they can,” he added. “If somebody doesn’t have something, you really have to understand, it’s not their fault.”

Prices for packaging-related items have gone sky high as well, with more increases scheduled next month.

Spector said the bag ban will be the biggest pain to deal with, but the ban on styrofoam containers is challenging as well.

“What everyone is going to have to figure out is when you go to a restaurant and you get four meals or eight meals — and normally it’s neatly packaged in a bag — that bag, if it’s a paper bag, if there’s liquid, the food can fall through the bottom,” he noted.

There are plenty of alternatives to styrofoam, but Spector said the supply and demand issues will only get worse when the ban takes effect.

No clear bag solution for grocery delivery with bag ban, but NJ state senator proposes exemption for them

One of the concerns raised about New Jersey’s upcoming single-use bag ban is what to do about grocery delivery. The question has no definitive answer right now, but a state senator has proposed an exemption for grocery deliveries to avoid any unintended consequences.

Grocery stores won’t be allowed to give customers any bags, paper, or plastic, and that’s an easy fix for people who are shopping at the store. Just bring your own bag.

But for grocery delivery, it’s a concern.

Stores aren’t really talking about it, and some managers aren’t sure what to do about this delivery dilemma. Adding the cost of reusable bags to your delivery bill seems to be the only real option, but that isn't an ideal solution.

“If you get your groceries delivered, you’re going to have a surplus of reusable bags. They are not as recyclable as a single-use plastic bag,” said State Senator Kristin Corrado (R-Totowa).

She has proposed legislation that asks the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to provide an exemption for deliveries until better solutions are discovered.

“We certainly put in a number of carve-outs for produce, meat, or dry cleaners. I don’t see why we couldn’t do this exemption at this time, and certainly continue to encourage reuse and recycling,” said Corrado.

She says those reusable bags are even more of a problem for the environment, believing that  people who order grocery delivery frequently will eventually throw those away, too.

Corrado added that she raised the concern two years ago when the bill was first brought up for debate.

“I kind of got laughed at, as if it wasn’t a serious issue, ‘Don’t worry about it, they’ll figure it out,’ and here we are,” Corrado said. “Ready for the ban to go into effect in a few weeks, and we’re not prepared.”

The DEP wouldn’t comment on Corrado’s bill but said they are monitoring the situation, and that stores are permitted to provide approved reusable bags or cardboard boxes for deliveries.

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