Jersey bag ban a feel-good policy complicated by reality

Jersey bag ban a feel-good policy complicated by reality

Jersey bag ban a feel-good policy complicated by reality

New Jersey recently joined the list of places banning plastic bags in the check-out line, and imposed strict rules on store customers, but a critic of environmental laws says it’s another feel-good approach.

New Jersey's ban, which started May 4, is considered the strictest in the country because both plastic and paper bags are no longer available in grocery stores. Many states and municipalities allow paper bags – but not New Jersey – after the 2019 law took effect last month banning single-use bags.

Ban-the-bag supporters insist the ban cuts down on waste and helps the environment, and the alternative idea is for caring customers to bring sturdy, stitched handle bags to the store for shopping.

And that’s one glaring problem with this earth-friendly idea, says H. Sterling Burnett, Ph. D., a climate and environmental expert at The Heartland Institute.

"Reusable bags -- most of them come from China using chemicals that are not good for the environment. The shipping is not good for the environment," he advises. "All of the so-called single plastic bags are made in the United States.”

Not only is the issue complicated by the manufacturing process and environmental regulations, the bag-banning law itself came after a complicated process in the state legislature. According to an NJ.com story about the new law, state lawmakers had to define “grocery store” since the law allows retail stores to offer paper bags. When the bill was being debated, the grocery store industry lobbied for banning paper bags, too, since they cost stores more to stock for the customer.

Burnett, Sterling (Heartland Institute) Burnett

Burnett tells AFN that the single-use plastic bags targeted by the law are more environmentally-friendly than some might think. That’s because they are often reused at home or in a business, such as using them for storage or substituting small trash bags in a trash can, so that is not “single use.”

Meanwhile, Burnett says no one should dismiss bag bans as a feel-good initiative by tree-hugging liberals in a blue state or a left-leaning city.

"No one considers Texas a liberal state that I know of, and yet there are a couple of liberal cities and they passed bag bans here in Texas," Burnett says. "They have been subsequently overturned because they violate state law, but other cities followed suit including relatively conservative cities. So you have to be warned."