No one can say they weren’t warned about the profound disruptions that would result from New Jersey’s experiment in banning single-use disposable packaging. Weeks before the state’s ban on plastic shopping bags, disposable food containers, and even brown paper bags (for stores larger than a bodega) went into effect, local media outlets began to explore the waste, profligacy, and profiteering it would produce. Indeed, the lethargy that characterized the reporting on the ban ahead of its implementation betrayed an unspoken assumption that it was just too stupid to ever become law. But become law it did. As predicted, this maddeningly dimwitted initiative has produced its share of hardships, but that anguish is tempered some by the law’s hilarious unintended consequences.
New Jersey’s draconian assault on convenience went into effect in May, and it wasn’t long before anyone who wasn’t ideologically committed to climate-related de-industrialization could see what a disaster it was. The most visible—and vocal—of the dissenters from the new regime were those with the means to order their groceries online.
“The only glitch so far that we’ve had (during the ban) is the fact that the home delivery of groceries has been interpreted to mean you have to do it in a reusable bag and what’s happening is the number of these bags are accumulating with customers,” said State Sen. Bob Smith. You see, grocery-delivery services somehow interpreted the statutory language in the disposable ban bag to mean that disposable bags are banned. Just four months later, customers are awash in “reusable” bags. This—the “only glitch” so far—has led New Jersey lawmakers to rethink the virtue of banning paper bags (though plastics are still forbidden).
The snobbery that informs this observation is particularly contemptible. Homeless shelters and food pantries, for example, also must comply with this ban, though the state saw fit to give them a few months’ reprieve to get their affairs in order. But with the deadline looming, food banks are begging New Jersey residents to donate their bags—whatever they have—to stave off disaster. And yet, even the generosity of the state’s residents cannot meet the measure of the moment. “We’re finding some people are donating bags that are unclean,” Jen Miller, director of the Community FoodBank of New Jersey, complained. “We want people on line to get food and get it in a nice clean bag.”
There’s a reason single-use plastics are commonly found in sterilized medical settings. You’re going to be hard-pressed to find a gently used grocery bag in pristine condition. The primary benefit consumers enjoy from products like disposable polystyrene containers is that you can literally eat off of them. The beneficent social engineers who populate Trenton somehow failed to consider this when they imposed their preferred hardship on their fellow New Jersey residents.
The environmental benefits associated with the bag ban were already dubious before we discovered that banning disposable bags necessitates the proliferation of non-disposable bags. Reusable bags require more material to make and involve more energy in their production. Quite unlike disposable plastic bags, the reusable sort isn’t even recyclable. You see, according to New Jersey’s ordinance, reusable bags “must have handles, be made of some kind of washable fabric, and withstand 125 uses and multiple washes.” But those conditions ensure that these bags cannot be recycled.
The “sorters at the MRF’s, material recycling facilities, are not equipped to manually or optically separate out reusable bags, and most likely the handles will cause the sorters to jam,” said JoAnn Gemenden, executive director of New Jersey Clean Communities Council. That must be news to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, which “encourages recycling” of reusable bags even if they don’t have to “meet a minimum recyclable material” requirement.
And if reusable bags are so resource intensive that their environmental benefits are negligible, you won’t believe how many resources go into the production of the plastic hand baskets you find at the supermarket entryway—which New Jerseyans are stealing in record numbers.
“They are just disappearing,” the CEO of Food Circus Super Markets mourned. Indeed, many other retailers in the state have found that consumers are less likely to keep paying for the reusable bags they absentmindedly forget to bring to the store than to just steal hand baskets. It’s “an unintended consequence of the ban on plastic and paper bags,” the grocery chain Stop & Shop asserted in a statement. “I may actually have to just do away with them soon, can’t afford to keep replacing them,” Food Circus’s exasperated executive warned.
Doubtless, layering this inconvenience atop the burdens already imposed on New Jersey consumers would satisfy the environmentalist wing. A consistent feature of this movement, beyond its economic illiteracy and allergy to concepts like substitution costs, is the assumption that, if a resource doesn’t get used by people in their immediate line of sight, it doesn’t get used at all. When those possessed of this disposition confront the fallacy they’ve adopted, they soon retreat to the idea that privation is good for the soul.
“Future generations in NJ won’t miss what they never had,” read one local op-ed. “One positive note is that I notice I purchase less because I know I will likely be carrying my items in my hand when I leave the store. With prices going up, that is a win for my pocket!”
It’s a new day, in which you can only afford what you can physically carry, and your children will never know the bountiful convenience their parents took for granted. You’re welcome, New Jersey.
But the state isn’t done yet. Sen. Smith, the legislative father of the state’s bag ban, is retailing legislation that would penalize companies that both use plastic products and do business in his state—criteria that include just about every productive enterprise on earth. “But if and when it does pass, it won’t impact big companies overnight,” New Jersey 101.5 promised. “They will have plenty of time to come up with a plan and change what they do when it comes to packaging and waste.”
The “plan” these targeted firms produce should involve relocating to Pennsylvania.