Plastic hand held baskets are disappearing from local supermarkets (Contributed photo)

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.”

A nearly empty shopping cart storage shell at a local grocery store (Contributed photo)

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.”

Plastic shopping baskets are disappearing from area supermarkets (Contributed photo)

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!”

Glenn Townes

I'm an award winning journalist based in Edison, NJ. My work has been featured in dozens of publications including, Black Enterprise magazine; ESSENCE magazine and Real Health magazine. I am also a featured...

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36 Comments

  1. Great job Glenn. You’re a gifted writer!
    So, will people start stealing gas powered vehicles once we go to all electric cars? Unbelievable.

  2. Bring back the bags,,, like our neighboring states. The whole idea is not worth the anguish from BOTH sides, THANK YOU.

  3. Stealing baskets/carts is ridiculous. People have carried baskets with them for groceries since time immemorial. Almost every store sells reusable bags at the register, and rolling carts or wagons – foldable ones! – under $100 have been a staple of life for those without cars for decades.

    The stores need to *sell* baskets, bags, and carts by the entrance. In the end, the stores won’t need to own as many themselves.

    1. I totally agree with you plus that’s a wonderful idea. Back in the day people would bring a basket from to shop or some kind of a box. When I lived closer to a store I would walk to the store. I invested in one of those rolling carts and shop with that. When my husband and I go to the Big framers market that cart comes with us.

      In 2020 we used it when we went to store. It cute down on touching any carts at the time.

      Or maybe have a deposit fee and if they bring back the basket or cart they would get their money back.

  4. Put the plastic bags back in stores. What is so hard to figure out, what’s causing the problem. It’s so unfair to the elderly, sickly, and handicapped individuals to live there life, outside of their homes. It’s not a complicated problem to figure out. Please for the love of God, put plastic bags back into stores. We had them in stores since the beginning of time. Why all of a sudden, the ridiculous change!

  5. For goodness sake : save all bags cloth and otherwise …. Bring them ALL into the store otherwise we all end up paying in the end for the stolen carts etc ….plastic bags are just ONE conscious thing we all can do to stop population of plastic bags in our Forests and In our water ways . Every little bit helps, so please adjust to carrying bags into all stores and stop stealing the carts That increases all of our food bills! Costs of running convience stores are emmensely high ! Help store owners out …. Keep our food costs lower, and carry some bags … please 🙏🏻🙌✔️

  6. This problem is not the peoples problem. Prices are sky rocketing all across the country and on top of that you are asking people to also pay for your reusable bags another small amount of money but none the less just more money out of the consumers pockets. People are fed up with the bullshit and now have decided to take back. If you stores don’t like it then stop charging for your reusable bags. It didn’t cost the consumer anything when they were using plastic bags, so why charge for the reusable bags. See you big company’s think it’s ok to keep taking and taking from the consumer with out anything in return. Well now they are not returning you baskets and carts. Bags should be free, no cost to the consumer, your prices are already sky rocketing so you have to eat something as well as we do with these bullshit price increases.

    1. Well said my friend! Corporate and government greed has destroyed the middle and lower class making almost impossible to survive let alone have any kind of life. It’s about time we start taking back.

  7. It’s terrible without bags in NJ, I hate it I reuse everyone of my bags but now I have to buy them on Amazon to clean my litter boxes

    1. So the oceans should continue to be filled to the brim, killing sea creatures so your cat can have clean litter? 😖 I have a cat too…and yes it stinks to not have the convenience BUT I’m adjusting . I’d rather see less destructive measures to the sea FINALLY happen !

  8. That’s what happens when a governor doesn’t do his due diligence. Murphy is a knucklehead. Thank God he is term limited.

  9. What is wrong with paper bags? Stores used to have them. Now they either don’t have them or they charge for them! They are way better than plastic. Everyone is trying to make money off of Covid! Ridiculous!!

  10. Please bring the paper bags back !
    I have cut my groceries back a lot, do not
    Spend as much as we used to.
    Kids do not need those sugary ,powdered
    Drinks , they now are drinking water.
    I cut back on on the junk in my house.

  11. Let’s see !! Meat, wrapped in plastic, produce, in plastic bags, every ounce of soda in the store, in plastic, cereal, every box of cereal comes with a plastic bag inside, frozen vegetables come in plastic bags, bakery items , yup, you guessed it – plastic containers!!!! Need I go on ??? Plastic knives, forks, spoons, glasses, and plates for BBQ’s, boxes of cookies and crackers have what inside- ok, everybody now – PLASTIC !!!!!!!

  12. Every time I go to the gas pump or grocery store I curse Phil Murphy and Joe Biden. It’s the new world order, and I suppose we better accept it if we like it or not

  13. How about like Aldi….have the empty boxes available? In he old days grocery stores packed items in boxes. Recycling at its best! What have people done with all their grocery bags that they had before?

  14. No plastic bags and you bring your own and bag your own food. Why don’t the store supply paper bags and bag up the food for the customers.

  15. I say make everyone carry their own groceries if we run out of shopping carts. Stealing carts and baskets is just LAZY! Stop being part of the problem and start being the solution.

  16. Or you know, the stores could start offering paper bags, like they used to, not all that long ago.

    Why is this so difficult?

  17. I don’t agree with people stealing shopping carts and baskets. I becomes a problem for us as consumers. I went to ShopRite to pick up a few items and behold they had no shopping baskets I was blown away and annoyed. I think paper bags are good but who wants to pay for bags every time you run into a store to buy something. These companies have enough money to supply paper bags but instead they increased food prices… a Necessity SMH. So yes people are going to steal what they can sadly.

  18. I created a shopping organizer called the “Grocery Gizmo “ which holds your grocery list and reusable bags and hangs on your shopping cart. Check it out on my Etsy shop LadyStellaBug. It helps a lot of people remember to bring their reusable bags. We need to change our previous habits to help our environment.

  19. I came across this article today. I live on Long Island NY. We’ve had a plastic bag ban for a few years now. It’s never easy in the beginning with change. People at first weren’t happy but, we all got used to it. Paper bags are available for 5 cents. You can buy a few reusable bags for 50 cents or a dollar. I work in a supermarket and have been a employee there for over 10 years. People like to complain. For some reason it makes them feel better. Life is way to short to whine about bags, or anything so trivial.

  20. The reusable bags are too big and too long for short elderly people. When I use one it touches the ground when I carry it. They are very heavy as we’ll paper bags should be allowed. This ban was not carefully thought out.

  21. That’s Redicolous!!!! I am not purchasing no cart to shop!!! I do agree that the plastic bags are destroying the environment. Recycling bags, all good. Shoppers who steal shopping carts and baskets should be fined; and if continued banned from the store; and police record for theft with community service!!!!!

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