I lived with a plastic bag ban for 3 years. Here are my tips for getting out of it.
On May 4, the rest of New Jersey can do what my Hudson County neighbors and I have been doing since 2019 – go cold turkey on our addiction to single-use plastic grocery bags.
Jersey City and Hoboken instituted municipal plastic bag bans in 2019, and Hoboken strengthened its policy in 2020. Since I live in one of those cities and shop in both, I live with a bag ban for three years now.
With a large department store plastic bag at home, overflowing with other plastic bags, I welcomed him. Even reusing plastic grocery bags for waste disposal still left me with a big surplus (get it?). There are new routines to follow, but you can benefit from my bag ban “beta test”.
Buy plenty of reusable bags
I am single and have a dozen reusable plastic and fabric grocery bags and a cooler bag in my collection. This allows me to have enough bags to rotate between car and home without being caught in a bag shortage. This should give you an idea of what you need or want.
Try different types of reusable bags
Different bags have a variety of carrying capacities. The most common large heavy plastic shopping bags are cargo carriers, capable of swallowing large and heavy items and carrying a lot of stuff. Cloth bags seem to work best as back-ups.
My two treasured bags are older Whole Foods cloth bags that are difficult to pack, but the shape keeps small boxes (like the many cans of cat food I buy) from coming loose in the car. You can also buy tiny collapsible fabric bags and mesh bags that fit in your pocket, work bag or wallet for that sudden, unplanned stop at a store on the way home.
Not all bags are equal. I’ve had hybrid bags made from fabric and plastic fibers that have torn or disintegrated, and I avoid buying them.
Supermarkets have different types of bags at reasonable prices, that’s where I bought mine. I would recommend testing different types of bags early, before May 4th.
ABC (Always Carry)
That sometimes annoying new habit you’ll have to adopt is putting the bags back in your vehicle after driving a load of groceries home. It’s a delicate balance between the terror of shopping. I try to have enough bags in the car for two grocery runs, plus a few spare bags.
Sturdy and heavy plastic shopping bags from department stores are also good choices to keep in the car as backups for your first aid bags.
I try to put reusable items from the last grocery trip in a bag and leave them at the front door as a reminder to put them in the car. As there is a supermarket a few steps away, I try to balance my stock between the bags I leave at home for walks/bikes and the ones I keep in my car.
always bring more
I can’t stress that enough. If you think four bags will do, bring five. I call it the bag just in case. A few unexpected 2-for-1 sales can quickly fill the bags. There have been a few terrifying trips where I left that spare bag in the car and regretted it.
Cloth bags are best for this, as they compress into the larger bag if not needed, and you can use the last of your old pre-ban plastic grocery bags as an oversize bag. full of urgency. (Yes, just because plastic bags will be banned at checkout doesn’t mean you can’t bring and use the ones you have).
Prepare your bag for the heavy
The best reusable plastic bags come with a thicker piece of plastic on the bottom to help provide support for heavy items. Without one, the bottom of the bag sags in the middle and scrapes the pavement.
If your bag doesn’t have one, or the plastic piece is too thin to support the load, cut a piece of cardboard from all those Amazon delivery boxes to fit the bottom of your bag. The extra support is especially important if you are walking to and from the supermarket and helps when walking from the store to the car.
Self-isolate for the summer
Similar to a trip to the beach, you’ll need a cooler bag when the weather gets hot for your cold and frozen runs.
I say this with a caveat: if you have a short commute between the store and home, you can do without it, except for gooey groceries like ice cream. If you stop for shopping in the middle of your drive and you’re still driving another 30 minutes, you might want to consider buying a cooler bag and an ice pack. I only use an ice pack on the hottest days.
I have a cheat code when I forget the cooler bag, which succeeded, as in no food poisoning. Load all your cold and frozen groceries into the same bag (or bags) for the trip home. Split the load so you have frozen and cold items in the same bag. You use frozen items as an ice pack to keep cold foods from heating up.
I had to learn how to pack these bags so that all the heavy stuff wasn’t in one bag for the sake of my arms and the bag. Half a dozen big cans of tomato sauce can fit in a big heavy plastic shopping bag, but that doesn’t mean you should.
Luckily, I haven’t tested the weight capacity of large reusable plastics. And I don’t want to learn the hard way by pausing. So I divide my heavy items between bags and fill them with lighter items.
You should also isolate breakable items in glass containers or produce in lightweight but highly crushable plastic containers and carefully wrap cold or bruise sensitive items (I’m looking at you bananas).
Your laundry has a new friend. Cloth bags should be washed periodically, especially after carrying leaky groceries, such as poultry. I throw them in with other towels and let them air dry. Cleaning them also prolongs their lifespan.
Plastic bags can be cleaned as needed with a damp cloth. Your other new chore? Shuffle the receipts that cluster at the bottom of the bag.
What I hate about the ban
OK, this is my place to let off steam. I totally agree with the use of reusable bags, and carrying them quickly becomes a habit.
An annoying aspect is the loss of these single-use bags as small trash bags or dog bags. For years I had to sneak into the suburbs to buy groceries just to get a load of free plastic grocery bags. They have been my secret stash lining my kitchen trash can.
Now when the statewide ban hits, me and people like me will probably have to buy small trash bags – which will have a use before they go to the landfill, unlike my grocery bags. plastic that have a double chance of being useful
What will my workaround be? It is to be determined.
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Larry Higgs can be reached at [email protected].