Plastic bag ban causes chaos at New Jersey supermarkets.
People are stealing shopping carts and hand baskets from grocery stores across New Jersey. Retailers claim the missing metal carts and plastic baskets directly result from the state’s strict ban on plastic bags that went into effect earlier this year. Gov. Phil Murphy signed off on the law in November 2020—with an 18-month effective date. While proponents and some opponents of the governor lauded the environmentally friendly mandate, others, especially some retailers, continue encountering unusual obstacles–four months after the rollout.
“Shopping baskets and shopping carts are disappearing like never before since the plastic ban bag went into effect in May,” said Anthony Sanfilippo, store director at McCaffrey’s Food Market in Princeton, NJ. “It’s become a daily occurrence.” McCaffrey’s is an upscale grocery store based in Langhorne, Pa, but has two locations in New Jersey. The store isn’t the only grocer dealing with the thefts, as some of the state’s largest supermarkets report a similar and troubling trend.
“Like other retailers across the state, we have experienced a theft of our handheld shopping baskets—an unintended consequence of the ban on plastic and paper bags, said Stefanie Shuman, a spokeswoman for Massachusetts-based Stop and Shop. The supermarket has dozens of stores located throughout New York and New Jersey. And several Shop Rite stores gradually removed all handheld baskets from stores throughout the summer. The situation has become so dire that several Stop and Shop and Shop Rite stores have posted signs that warn shoppers, “Hand baskets must remain inside the store at all times.”
According to various reports in Supermarket News—an industry trade publication, and information from the New Jersey Food Council, an advocacy group representing New Jersey grocers, the cost of a basic shopping cart is about $200. Plastic hand baskets cost about $15-$20 each. “If I order 10 or 15 hand baskets or shopping carts they’re gone within a few weeks,” Sanfilippo said. “It’s becoming a liability and too expensive for the store to keep replacing them.”
And Wegmans Food Markets—an upscale supermarket based in Rochester, NY—with several locations in New Jersey, said it would eliminate single-use plastic bags company-wide by the end of the year. The store wants to spur and promote the use of reusable shopping bags, be environmentally friendly and deter the theft of shopping carts. In a statement to the media, a spokesman for the grocer said, “We understand shoppers are accustomed to receiving plastic bags at checkout, and losing that option requires a significant change. We are here to help our customers with this transition as we focus on doing what’s right for the environment.”
Despite the state’s “Go Green” philosophy, many grocery store customers are turning red. “I came into the store to pick up a few items and couldn’t find a hand basket anywhere,” said Diana W., a frequent shopper at the Shop Rite store in Edison. “The whole thing is annoying and inconvenient.” And John P., a shopper in Princeton, said, “I spend more time walking back and forth to my car to get enough shopping bags than I do shopping for groceries!”