By ERIN ROLL
roll@montclairlocal.news

New Jersey’s ban on single-use bags, signed into law last week, is being celebrated by Montclair environmental and business leaders.

It won’t take effect until the spring of 2022, in order to give businesses time to get into compliance. 

The bill passed the Senate and Assembly in September, and on Nov. 4, Gov. Phil Murphy signed the bill into law. 

Since December of last year, Montclair has had its own ordinance prohibiting single-use plastic bags in large chain stores of 20,000 square feet or more.

The state-level plastic bag ban applies to businesses of any size, while the paper bag ban applies only to grocery stores that occupy 2,500 square feet or more. 

Next spring, single-use plastic carryout bags will no longer be allowed throughout New Jersey. This does not include produce bags, dry cleaner bags, or newspaper bags. 

Large grocery stores will no longer be allowed to offer paper grocery bags, except for small bags for products like nuts, fruit or bulk candy. And the paper grocery bag ban does not apply to small businesses. 

Also banned will be polystyrene containers, except for foam meat trays and small lidded containers designed for carrying out hot foods.

Plastic straws will be available only on request from restaurants. 

Originally Montclair’s law was intended to apply to any store over 2,500 square feet, but it was amended to encompass only stores that are over 20,000 square feet due to pushback from smaller businesses.

Montclairians have been bringing their own reusable bags for a year and half when shopping in big-box stores, or purchasing single-use paper bags at a charge of 10 cents a bag.

But under the new law, stores and food services businesses would not be able to provide or sell paper carryout bags.

The state law will supersede all county and local bag ordinances, including Montclair’s. 

“Obviously there’s a lot to sift through in the law,” said Jason Gleason of the Montclair Center BID. But he said the law took a lot of “great, decisive measures,” and said it made a lot of concessions to help retailers get into compliance. 

Many of Montclair’s businesses have already taken steps to swap out plastic bags and polystyrene containers, he said. 

Gleason anticipated that sometime in late winter or spring, the Montclair Center BID will start working on outreach and education efforts to help retailers go into compliance with the bag ban. “I’m kind of glad that there’s a bit of time to comply,” he said. 

For Gray Russell, the township’s sustainability officer, the signing of the ban into law is good news. 

“We were a bit ahead of the game, but this is going to add some strength to our local ordinance,” he said.

Montclair is one of at least 130 New Jersey towns that has already taken steps to ban or restrict the use of single-use bags. Montclair’s ordinance applies to CVS Pharmacy’s three Montclair locations, and the township’s three grocery stores: Acme, Kings and Whole Foods. Whole Foods was not using plastic bags before Montclair’s ordinance took effect. 

Most Montclair restaurants have also phased out the use of polystyrene containers, Russell said. 

What it does mean, he said, is that restaurants will have to rethink how they send out takeout or delivery, which often leaves the restaurant in a single-use bag. 

With so many residents now opting for grocery deliveries, which rely heavily on single-use bags, the impact of the bag ban is still to be determined.

Kings spokesperson Kim Yorio said the grocery store chain had not yet finalized its plans for sustainable packaging once the bag ban takes effect. Representatives for Albertsons, the parent company for Acme, did not return a request for comment. 

Aldi issued the following statement: “ALDI U.S. has never offered single-use plastic grocery bags, and instead we encourage shoppers to bring their own reusable bags or buy a few of ours at checkout. Since our stores do not use single-use plastic grocery bags, our grocery delivery and curbside operations are also not impacted.” Store representatives could not issue further information regarding paper grocery bags.

Instacart representatives said the company would cooperate with local partners on complying with bag regulations. 

The DEP will publish a list of resources and vendors that retailers can use to find non-plastic alternatives. 

“Plastic bags are one of the most problematic forms of garbage, leading to millions of discarded bags that stream annually into our landfills, rivers and oceans,” Murphy said. “With today’s historic bill signing, we are addressing the problem of plastic pollution head-on with solutions that will help mitigate climate change and strengthen our environment for future generations.”