After single-use bag ban, reusable totes are overwhelming New Jersey

In the Garden State, shoppers have no choice but to bring a reusable bag into the local supermarket. With New Jersey's ban on plastic and paper bags, most people say it's turning into more of a nuisance—simply because they're overwhelmed.

At a Stop and Shop in Teaneck this week, FOX 5 NY saw some shoppers leaving with groceries loose in their cart. Others came prepared with bags. Here is some of what shoppers told us:

"I keep buying bags and bags and bags. Now I have a hundred thousand $6 bags and it's like what a racket!"

"I always forget to bring them when I come in the store — I have a bunch of them."

"I buy them all the time, unfortunately."

Reusable Bags Are Piling Up

So shoppers forget to bring bags to the store and then have to buy them over and over again. Plus at-home grocery delivery services — such as Amazon Fresh, Instacart, and Walmart Grocery — bring groceries to customers in the reusable bags, too, and do not take the bags back. Therefore, the bags just keep piling up. And piling up. 

Indeed, state Sen. Bob Smith, D-Middlesex, admitted that the bag ban has caused this "glitch."

"[H]ome delivery of groceries has been interpreted to mean you have to do it in a reusable bag and what's happening is the number of these bags are accumulating with customers," Smith told NJ Advance Media. "We know it's a problem. We agree it's a problem."

Smith said lawmakers could amend the law to allow delivery services to use paper bags or boxes, reported. 

What to Do with Reusable Bags?

In the meantime, what should you do with your stacks of reusable bags? 

Professor Shelie Miller of the University of Michigan told FOX 5 NY that her best advice for shoppers who are overstocked with reusable bags from either shopping in person or getting groceries delivered at home is reuse, reuse, and reuse again.

"When we are substituting single-use plastic bags for reusable bags, they can be much better for the environment, but only if we're able to reuse them a fairly large number of times," Miller said. "Figure out a way of keeping your reusable bag by the door so you just pick it up on the way out or in your car if you keep your reusable bags in your car. So just finding ways of reusing your reusable bags and making sure that you do so."

Another option is to donate the bags to groups that need them. For example, the Community FoodBank of New Jersey will take them off your hands

"Currently, nearly 300 of our network partners (food pantries, soup kitchens, and more) are accepting donations of reusable shopping bags. These partners distribute the nutritious food supplied by the Community FoodBank of New Jersey to our neighbors in need," CFBNJ states on its website. "By donating a new or gently used reusable shopping bag, you are not only helping the environment, but keeping costs down for our partners."

You can also find creative ways to use the bags around your home, including as grow bags in your garden

Shopping Baskets Are Being Stolen

And another problem that has surfaced since the ban: grocery store customers are finding other ways to bring their essentials home. People are stealing plastic hand baskets, according to multiple supermarket chains in New Jersey. 

"Like other retailers across the state, we have experienced theft of our handheld shopping baskets — an unintended consequence of the ban on plastic and paper bags," Stop & Shop said in a statement to "We continue to encourage and remind shoppers to bring their own bags, as well as offer our own durable and affordable 2 for $1 reusable bags in store."

Some grocery stores are ordering more baskets while others are considering finding a way to do away with baskets altogether. (The baskets can cost $5 to $10 apiece.)

With FOX 5 NY's Christine Russo, Luke Funk and Arun Kristian Das.