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New Jersey Plastic Bag Ban Followed By ‘near tripling of plastic consumption’

Governor Phil Murphy (D-N.J.) and New Jersey state legislators touted a new law banning plastic and paper shopping bags at stores when they enacted it in 2020. According to a new study, however, passage of New Jersey’s anti-plastics law has been followed by a near tripling of plastic consumption at Garden State checkouts.

“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,” Governor Phil Murphy (D-N.J.) said at the bag ban bill signing ceremony in November 2020. “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.”

Four years on, however, there is evidence that New Jersey’s bag prohibition not only failed to curb plastic usage, it backfired. According to a new study released on January 9 by the Freedonia Group, 53 million pounds worth of plastic shopping bags were used in New Jersey prior to implementation of the state’s bag ban, a figure that has risen to 151 million pounds since the prohibition was instituted.

The Freedonia Group study found that the reusable bags New Jersey shoppers have been forced to use since the bag ban took effect in May of 2022 are rarely reused, only two to three times on average. With many people in New Jersey now using reusable bags as single use bags, the state’s plastic and paper bag prohibition, though passed with the best of intentions, may be doing more harm than good in practice.

Reusable bags are manufactured with 15 to 20 times the amount of plastic used in the now prohibited single-use plastic bag, notes the Freedonia report. The reusable bags that New Jersey residents now pay for at checkout or when their groceries are delivered, according to researchers, need to be used anywhere from 11-59 times in order to have a net benefit for the environment. The Freedonia study found most reusable bags are used an average of two to three times. As a result, overall plastic usage for bags in New Jersey has risen.