PARAMUS, N.J. — Inside Stop and Shop on Route 17 South in Paramus on the morning of New Year’s Day, customers at checkout weren’t asked the typical question “paper or plastic”? Instead, they were asked if they wished to purchase two reusable bags for $1 after the sales associate bagged their initial batch of groceries with a free one.
This scenario is the new normal at retail stores in Paramus after a new town law adopted by the borough council in late December, went into effect Wednesday banning the use of single-use plastic carry out bags and polystyrene foam in all retail establishments in the borough.
Environmental reasons were cited to warrant the ban. Per legislative findings outlined in the 12-page ordinance, 4 billion single-use shopping bags are used annually in the Garden State and carry adverse affects on marline life given micro-plastic pollution in oceans, which can enter the human food chain.
Paramus joins about 70 towns in the Garden State, including nearby Glen Rock, Ridgewood and Saddle Brook, that have adopted such legislation.
Mayor Richard LaBarbiera said the approval is “environmentally responsible and a step in the right direction to reduce plastic waste” in Paramus, which he likens to the “retail capital” of the region.
Per the new law, shoppers are encouraged to use reusable cloth bags. In turn, stores may provide a credit to customers who choose to bring their own.
The new law also mandates that food vendors wrap and package food in degradable packaging in lieu of polystyrene foam. According to the ordinance, polystyrene foam contains styrene, a known neurotoxin and suspected carcinogen which, from the disposable food service ware and packaging, get into food and drink, potentially threatening human health. It presently occupies nearly 30 percent of landfill space in the country and 38 percent of all plastic pollution in the Hackensack River.
The law comes with hefty enforcement. Violators must pay $100 after the first written notice, $200 after the second, and $500 after subsequent violations.
Stores seeking an exemption can request one with a $100 request fee and an explanatory letter to the governing body and the Environmental Commission about why a compliant bag would “impose undue hardship” on the consumer.
On Wednesday morning, Stop and Shop gave away 300 reusable bags on a first-come, first-served basis to help local customers adjust to the transition to the plastic bag ban.
That morning, few shoppers knew of the ordinance’s effect that day. Several customers seemed perplexed at checkout when they were told by the sales associate that they get one reusable bag and must either use the store’s reusable brown paper bags, purchase reusable bags from the store, or bring their own.
Other shoppers said the one thing they miss about single-use plastic bags are their durability to hold their groceries, specifically meat products, which can drip juice.
Other than that quibble, many agreed their disappearance is a good thing for the environment and said they were “fine” with the ban.
“I’m happy about it,” said Ann Cleary, a Paramus resident who purchased some reusable bags that morning. “Actually, I have some at home, but I forgot about it!”
Said Anna Zivcak, of Waldwick, “I’m very happy. Finally, they stop.”