Pantries get 6-month extension to plastic bag ban to ease transition

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Food banks and pantries in New Jersey say they are concerned about the impact of a plastic bag ban in the state on their organizations.

The ban will come into effect on May 4.

“In 2021, we distributed nearly 18 million pounds of food. In 2020, it was 22 million pounds of food,” says Fred Wasiak, president and CEO of Food Bank of South Jersey.

The need for food is still well above pre-pandemic levels in New Jersey. And Wasiak says all that food is distributed in plastic bags.

“Our mobile distributions use bags because it also protects our dry goods – our boxed goods – from weather, weather. We are outside setting up tents etc. So it’s important to help contain and protect the food they bring home,” says Wasiak.

Food banks and pantries have had an additional six months to continue using plastic bags. Wasiak says organizations are now pivoting to find alternatives.

“As a food bank, sustainability is a direction we are always striving towards. And so the fact that we believe in the environment. But the work we do and the people we serve, we need to have this big transition period,” he says.

The South Jersey Food Bank says the six-month extension will give them time to switch from plastic bags to reusable bags. They say they hope local businesses will partner with them to help offset the costs.

“We will seek partnerships. We are going to look for donors and we are going to have to buy reusable bags,” explains Wasiak.

He says it remains to be seen what the price difference will be between plastic bags and reusable bags. Each family usually returns home with several bags of food.

“We just don’t want them to have to incur additional expense, so it will be a collaborative and strategic process to make sure that after six months we’re ready to go,” Wasiak said.

The state will provide 500,000 reusable bags to these organizations to help them get started.

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