Chelsea Maher wants to see plastic bags at checkout again.

"Every time, I have to go back to my car, get the bags, and come back to the store. It just wastes my time," she said while packing her trunk with groceries.

The Freehold mother of two feels New Jersey's ban on single-use bags "makes no sense" — stores are still using plastic bags for produce and meat, and shoppers can buy several types of plastic bags off the shelves.

New Jersey is split on bag ban

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More than half of New Jersey's residents are not content with the state's current ban on single-use paper and plastic bags, according to poll results released Wednesday out of Fairleigh Dickinson University.

Forty percent of poll respondents said they support keeping New Jersey's ban as is. Thirty-three percent want the law overturned completely, and 26% said they support a modification of the law, which is considered to be the strictest bag ban in the country.

"Nine months later, people are still arguing about it," said Dan Cassino, director of the FDU poll.

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Single-use shopping bags have been out of circulation in large stores since May.

Through the end of 2022, it's estimated by advocates that New Jersey's law eliminated the need for close to 5 billion plastic bags in stores, and about 96 million paper bags.

"At first, it was a pain in the neck. But then I got used to it," Dominick Del Bene, of Howell, said. "It seems like I'm carrying less bags. The plastic bags always ripped."

"It's a slow process ... but over time, it does have its benefits," added Lakewood resident Nascir Dotson.

In the poll, 55% of Republicans support ending the bag ban altogether; 20% of Democrats would be on board with scrapping the law. Fifty percent of Democrats support keeping the ban as is, along with 24% of Republicans.

"This is almost a perfect symbolic issue for partisans in New Jersey," Cassino said. "Democrats can feel like they're doing something for the environment; Republicans can feel like they're suffering under governmental over-reach. Whether they like the ban or not, everyone is getting something they want out of it."

Too many reusables?

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For now, state leaders have tabled plans to modify the bag ban.

Existing legislation would give grocery stores the option to use certain single-use paper bags for delivery and curbside pickup orders. Also, grocery stores and delivery service providers that use reusable bags would have to create a way for shoppers to return their bags, and establish a reuse or donation plan for the bags.

"If you order for delivery, they'll deliver with those bags," said Howell resident Phil Oaks. "At least in our home, we don't know what to do with them."

The New Jersey Food Council told us in January that it's working to come up with ways to address the proliferation of reusable bags, perhaps by creating spots in the community where individuals can drop off their bags to be collected, sanitized, and distributed to people in need.

Howell resident Mary Cattano has "no problem" with New Jersey's current ban on single-use bags, but doesn't understand what it's accomplishing when reusable bags are just taking their place.

"It's not really avoiding that waste because people are still buying bags," she said. "Because people are still throwing them away."

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