NJ Plastic Bag Ban Useless? Reports Show 3 Times As Much Plastic Consumption Today (UPDATED)

by Peter Candia
nj plastic bag ban

Update February 1, 2024: Since publishing, it has been discovered that Freedonia Group, the organization responsible for conducting the study and case against plastic bag bans, may have done so for self-serving reasons. According to Litter Free NJ,  the report released by Freedonia Group was commissioned by the American Recyclable Plastic Bag Alliance. In other words, the study was paid for by the plastic industry.

Another report released in January, conducted by Environment America, the U.S. Public Interest Research Group Education Fund, and Frontier Group, highlighted the effectiveness of nationwide plastic bag bans in significantly reducing plastic usage and pollution.

It is worth noting that while plastic consumption has risen with the increase of reusable, polypropylene-derived bags, that plastic pollution has plummeted—the original stated purpose of the ban. 

In 2022, New Jersey—joining a group of other states—banned single-use plastic bags from stores. This new policy meant that reusable grocery bags, or something similar, were required to shop if wanting a bag for your items. While this change was meant to minimize plastic consumption, it actually did the opposite; at least according to one study. 

Overnight, the plastic bags from the grocery store checkout disappeared, and stacks of reusable grocery bags appeared—usually sold for a couple of bucks. Many stores such as Whole Foods offer discounts when you bring your own bag, albeit a negligible discount at best. 

However, since the change, there have been naysayers, and they might have been right all along. 

NJ Plastic Bag Ban Creates More Plastic Use

According to a study conducted by Freedonia Report, the single-use bag ban led to a 60% percent decrease in “total bag volume.” While this seems to be a net positive, the state also (as planned) saw more people turn to reusable bags for their shopping. Thus, despite the decrease in single-use bag production, plastic consumption actually increased because of the material used in manufacturing the reusable grocery bags. 

The study states: “6x more woven and non-woven polypropylene plastic was consumed to produce the reusable bags sold to consumers as an alternative. Most of these alternative bags are made with non-woven polypropylene, which is not widely recycled in the United States and does not typically contain any post-consumer recycled materials.”

Citing the materials used as being more harmful than the former, the report continues, “This shift in material also resulted in a notable environmental impact, with the increased consumption of polypropylene bags contributing to a 500% increase in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions compared to non-woven polypropylene bag production in 2015. Notably, non-woven polypropylene, NWPP, the dominant alternative bag material, consumes over 15 times more plastic and generates more than five times the amount of GHG emissions during production per bag than polyethylene plastic bags.”

Freedonia Report also mentions the use of at-home grocery services. Along with the ban on single-use bags, many NJ residents turned to grocery delivery services—which provides reusable bags with every purchase. These bags stack up in people’s homes, are not recycled, and thus, create a need for more production. The volume of plastics used drives upward with it. 

Similarly, how often have you forgotten your bags at home? Requiring you to purchase more bags at the store. Not only is this an annoying extra cost, but now you are in possession of more bags that you don’t truly need. 

Are Plastic Bans Helpful?

Targeting single-use plastic bags isn’t necessarily counterproductive in fighting general pollution and emissions. In fact, the plastic bag ban has greatly reduced pollution on highways, beaches, parks and public spaces in New Jersey. This is a net positive, and one that would not be possible without the ban. However,  with the use of plastics still driving upward, we are left pondering whether there is a better way to go about the change. Unfortunately, when it comes to grocery shopping and the like, there doesn’t seem to be a viable solution that both decreases pollution and plastic consumption just yet.

What do you think about the ban on plastic bags? Is the fight ineffective, or is it building into something larger? Let us know below!

About the Author/s

All posts

Peter Candia is the Food + Drink Editor at New Jersey Digest. A graduate of The Culinary Institute of America, Peter found a passion for writing midway through school and never looked back. He is a former line cook, server and bartender at top-rated restaurants in the tri-state area. In addition to food, Peter enjoys politics, music, sports and anything New Jersey.

Related Articles


Christopher C Obropta January 30, 2024 - 2:13 pm

Your article neglected to discuss the reduction in plastic pollution in New Jersey. We no longer have plastic bags blowing across our state’s landscape getting into our streams, lakes, and ocean. Please next time consider telling the whole story.

Peter Candia January 31, 2024 - 5:51 pm

This was an oversignt on my part. I went ahead and updated the article to include this crucial piece.

Ralph January 30, 2024 - 2:28 pm

How about paper bags to reduce plastic?

FRANK HYMAN January 30, 2024 - 2:29 pm

New York state has a plastic bag ban but allows the purchase of brown paper bags which generally cost $.05 and can be recycled.

Paula Frazier February 1, 2024 - 9:30 pm

Bamboo bags work for me.
Found them at Whole Foods.

Cyndel January 30, 2024 - 2:37 pm

I hadn’t bought trash bags in 20 years, re-using my grocery shopping bags in under-sink trash cans — one for regular trash, the other for plastic, metal and glass recycling. When the recycling bag got too dirty for reuse, I’d move it to the “regular” trash can. I also reused my plastic shopping bags for disposing of used cat litter, cleaning up dog waste, grouping duplicate items in my freezer, and for all manner of storage. When I traveled, I packed my shoes and toiletries in plastic shopping bags and stowed a couple of extras for things like dirty clothes and wet swimsuits and towels. I also reused my shopping bags in the garden, for harvesting vegetables and carrying flowers I was transplanting. Every bag would eventually get recycled — after 2 or 3 other uses — as a trash bag. By mindful reuse of those “single-use” plastic shopping bags, I never in two decades had to buy packaged trash bags (which I doubt are recycled), packaged “poop bags,” or bulky, unsanitary, reusable grocery bags. Now I spend more and pollute more. That’s not progress.

Deborah February 1, 2024 - 4:18 pm

I totally agree with your statements. I did the same as you and we were recycling in our own way. The bottom line is “It is not the bag, it is the people.”

Michael Fremer January 30, 2024 - 2:41 pm

This is among the most ridiculous stories I’ve read in a very long time, or should I say the “study” is, probably written at a right wing anti-environmental regulations “think tank”.

Yes, until everyone catches up on their re-usable plastic bag collection and has a sufficient number on hand, there will be more plastic consumption. Duh! But once everyone’s caught up, quite obviously, all of those people will no longer be using and disposing plastic bags so the consumption will dr.

And yes! A few people will occasionally hit the supermarket leaving home the re-usable bags. But overall, this was a good idea to cut down on the waste.

Throwing home delivery bags into this mix is ridiculous. Without the law people getting home deliveries would be tossing out plastic bags with every delivery. Now they are “collecting” them. They can always use them for the supermarket, or give to a charity. It’s still better than disposing of throw away bags with every delivery.

Bob McBride January 30, 2024 - 3:58 pm

I agree that this study conveniently sidesteps mention ofanything about plastic waste, which was one of the prime considerations in creating the ban. Yes these bags create emissions to produce, but there is no mention of how many times the bags are reused or how many times the bags need to be reused in order to have an environmental impact. Let’s start with a conclusion and throw out all the facts that prove our case!!!! Worthless!

Jim January 30, 2024 - 5:18 pm

This is the stupidest thing New Jersey has ever done. I now have over 300 useless bags on my pantry that will go out in the garbage. Now I must Pay for a bag if I purchase anything. Everyone has forgotten that over 40 years ago before the single use bags began being used, the Cost of paper bage were provided FREE. It was the cost of doing business for the store owners. Also most people reused the single use bags, for picking up dog poop, and to line their home trash cans. Which you can Not do with the bags used today. One Very Unhappy customer!

dennis j bilar January 30, 2024 - 2:45 pm

Return to the single use bags but make recycling or returning them easier. I used mine at least 2X and they were good as garbage bags. The reusable bags could also cause the spread of communicable viruses or other health issues.

LBT January 30, 2024 - 2:55 pm

mmm. I would not refer to plastic grocery sacks as “beloved”. It’s really not that hard to bring your bags to the store. Most people that I see seem to have adapted pretty well.

Andrew January 30, 2024 - 3:00 pm

If Murphy had real balls, he’d tell manufacturers that they can’t sell their products in NJ if they come in plastic packaging.

Lesley G. January 30, 2024 - 3:04 pm

You mean to say that no grocery stores are providing PAPER bags for people who forget their reusable bags? That would take care of the problem, since paper can be easily recycled. If stores are looking to make money on the ban, then that is the individual store’s issue — but paper sacks have LONG been in use for groceries way before plastic bags were even thought of. Why not return to them and eliminate the “reusable plastic bag” problem altogether?

George Falkowski January 30, 2024 - 3:17 pm

So we have more complicated plastic bags to carry all the goods we buy that are either made of plastic, wrapped in plastic, contained in plastic jugs or bottles, or derived from plastics. New Jersey at its finest!

JUDITH BECK January 30, 2024 - 3:44 pm

First, let me say that I’ve been using reusable bags long before the current law went into effect. I’ve had the same bags for years, tossing them into the washing machine once in awhile. While any plastic that we can keep out of the waste stream is a win, I think the law needs some tweaking. For example, once the law went into effect, the recycling bins at most supermarkets disappeared. So, the plastic bags in the produce section, bread wrappers, etc. are no longer easily recycled. I get it, maintaining the bins were an expense for the stores. So, since this is a government mandate, I feel that the state needs to find the solution. How about bins at county recycling center, or maybe events at schools or municipal buildings? I actually contacted the state about this. I was pleased to hear back quickly, but all they said was that they are “aware of the problem”. I’d like to see some more details from this study because it seems a bit vague to me.

Lynette January 30, 2024 - 3:45 pm

Coming from a family of avid recyclers I used plastic store bags for lining my small waste baskets, disposing of cat litter, and, often when making my next purchase. There are so many uses when crafting like weaving placemats and beach totes, or just carrying or disposing of messy product. Now I often purchase bags online for these purposes so the ban just costs me money. Not to mention how many times I have to buy bags for an unanticipated purchase.

Franklin Johnson January 30, 2024 - 4:08 pm

I’m 76 years old, and I can remember a day when all groceries stores put your groceries put in brown paper bags, and as far as I know those bags were biodegradable. Some might say but your cutting down trees to make paper bags. That was true many years ago, but with all of the recycling that is being done today, the paper bags could be put in with your other recyclable paper and new bags could be made out of this recycled paper.

sid carton January 30, 2024 - 4:41 pm

More of a question than a comment.
Did the plastic bag ban have an impact on sales in retail stores?

A. Silva January 30, 2024 - 4:45 pm

To me it made no sense other than the retailers that make the “large plastic garbage bags” (Hefty, Glad, etc) are getting the x-tra cash they were not getting before.
As well as the supermarkets, they are selling their own bags left and right, making out on the deal as well…
But of course, the consumers have no saying…

Neil Scheck January 30, 2024 - 4:52 pm

The first commenter Michael was correct in calling this story “ridiculous.” It is also harmfully divisive because we are not going back to the atrocious single use plastic bag system, and if there are problems such as the sturdier replacement bags perhaps not being recyclable, that can be improved upon as we learn and work together. Like most people, I’ve got my reusable bags stockpiled now and will not need any new ones for years, and you can pick up a free one here and there anyway. btw I’ve learned that if I forget my bags, I don’t really need them! Place the items back in the cart, and then from the cart into your car trunk.

Jim January 30, 2024 - 5:19 pm

This is the stupidest thing New Jersey has ever done. I now have over 300 useless bags on my pantry that will go out in the garbage. Now I must Pay for a bag if I purchase anything. Everyone has forgotten that over 40 years ago before the single use bags began being used, the Cost of paper bage were provided FREE. It was the cost of doing business for the store owners. Also most people reused the single use bags, for picking up dog poop, and to line their home trash cans. Which you can Not do with the bags used today. One Very Unhappy customer!

Armani Marino January 30, 2024 - 5:29 pm

The nice thing about the plastic bag ban. I don’t see a ton of windsocks in the trees or at the landfill. These bags blow all over store parking lots and fields next to the store. So ban curbed the litter as far as the plastic bags.

Peter Candia January 31, 2024 - 5:49 pm

Agreed, Armani. I went ahead and updated the article to include this point.

Steve Haber January 30, 2024 - 5:31 pm

I personally like to reuse my shopping bags and keep them in my car so I never forget them when I shop. Perhaps the single most important benefit of the ban on single use bags is aesthetic as bags are no longer getting stuck in trees, or blowing through the streets and sidewalks, or getting stuck on utility poles. For this reason alone, I think we should stick with the ban.

Bill Zorzanello January 30, 2024 - 5:42 pm

It makes sense that reusable bags be made out of post consumer materials and that they too be recyclable. I still wonder why paper bags aren’t the answer

regina a January 31, 2024 - 12:59 pm

heres the problem, they got rid of the plastic bags, fine. majority of people used to use those plastic bags multiple times, storing food in the fridge instead of ziplock, using is as a trashbag instead of a hefty bag, reusing the bag in general to cart things around. this was a gain for the companies and a loss for the consumers, i have an abundance of bags that takes up a lot more room than the previous ones that i will reduce by 50% when i throw half of them out from being so annoyed. you wanna get rid of bags, go to the source, the company that manufactures everything in plastic. for instance bananas, apples, potatoes, oranges, onions, lettuce………shall i go on. you took one plastic bag that i fill up with 6 items that come in disposables bags that immediately go in the trash when i get home.

Jim Barg January 31, 2024 - 4:00 pm

While increased plastic consumption may be true, the reduction in plastic bag litter along our roads and highways is astonishing. If you’ve ever driven on NJ Rt. 38 near Lumberton/Mount Holly over the past several years, you will have noticed the difference almost immediately. I’m for upholding the ban for this reason…there’s nothing wrong with litter reduction.

Peter Candia January 31, 2024 - 5:29 pm

This is a great point

Robert Donnelly February 1, 2024 - 4:08 pm

As far as I can tell NJ residents have accumulated more bags of all types and have them stacked everywhere – at home, in their cars, in their garages, and they are still buying more when they shop. Plus, they still are buying plastic bags online and using them, too. The new law has created more bags of every imaginable type than there ever was before and they continue to increase every day. It appears that the law has created more bags that eventually will be converted to trash than there were before the ban on plastic shopping bags.

Kathy Abruzzo February 1, 2024 - 5:37 pm

It’s ok for me to put my dogs poop in a plastic bag, they are free at most parks, but I can’t put my vegetables in a plastic bag.

Margaret Yelenik February 1, 2024 - 6:22 pm

There are biodegradable bags on the market which other countries use for trash & recycling. We need to engineer good biodegradable bags for groceries.
I think people are lazy. Keep your reusable bags in the trunk of your car. If you forget them when you get into the store, walk back outside and get them. Yes, I have a few extra bags but if you organized them in your trunk, it should not be a problem. Also there are cloth bags on the market which are washable. Other countries have done this for years and eventually almost everyone finds a good environmental way to use some kind of reusable bag if they care about the world and their grandchildren’s future world. If you like to eat more plastic than is already in our food, then I guess you will never remember your reusable bag because you just don’t care about your health and the health of your grandchildren.

Peggy February 1, 2024 - 6:30 pm

Stores should not be selling the bags that are causing the problem.I use washable reusable bags. We were informed a few years before the plastic bags were banned and I was prepared and had my reusable bags ready. If the bags were not available, people will learn to find washable totes and bags.


Leave a Comment

Yes, I would like to receive emails from The Digest Online. Sign me up!

By submitting this form, you are consenting to receive marketing emails from: New Jersey Digest. You can revoke your consent to receive emails at any time by using the SafeUnsubscribe® link, found at the bottom of every email. Emails are serviced by Constant Contact