West Windsor tote give-away event aims to encourage use of reusable bags

Tirza Wahrman of the West Windsor Environmental Commission displays the reusable tote that will be given out at McCaffrey’s.

McCaffrey’s Supermarket and the West Windsor Environmental Commission are sponsoring a reusable tote giveaway on Tuesday to encourage shoppers to bring reusable bags to grocery stores. The event will be held from 10 a.m. until noon in front of the McCaffrey’s at the corner of Southfield Road and Route 571 in West Windsor.

Volunteers with the West Windsor Township Environmental Commission and West Windsor Green Team will distribute reusable grocery bags and educational materials to shoppers.The bags are being offered to help shoppers transition from single use plastic bags to reusable totes.

A recent study published in the journal Nature Sustainability found that single-use bags, plastic bottles, food containers and food wrappers are the four top items polluting the world’s oceans and seas, making up almost half of the human-made waste. 

In November, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy signed a bill that will prohibit the use of single-use plastic and paper bags in all stores and food service businesses statewide. The new law goes into effect in May of 2022. Plastic and paper single-use bags, as well as disposable food containers and cups made out of polystyrene foam, will be banned. The following products will be exempt for an additional two years after May 2022:  

  • Disposable, long-handled polystyrene foam soda spoons when required and used for thick drinks;
  • Portion cups of two ounces or less, if used for hot foods or foods requiring lids;
  •  Meat and fish trays for raw or butchered meat, including poultry, or fish that is sold from a refrigerator or similar retail appliance;
  • Any food product pre-packaged by the manufacturer with a polystyrene foam food service product; and
  • Any other polystyrene foam food service product as determined necessary by Department of Environmental Protection.

Food service businesses will be allowed to provide single-use plastic straws only upon request starting November 2021.

Nearly 60 towns in New Jersey have banned plastic bags, and many others have passed ordinances addressing their use. Activists in Princeton sought to require local businesses to charge 10 cents for single-use plastic bags back in 2015, but the governing body at the time refused to take up the issue. In 2014, voters in Mercer County rejected a question asking them to approve a five-cent tax for plastic shopping bags. Many voters voted against the measure because it was unclear how the revenue would be used. In West Windor, an ordinance banning single-use plastic bags was passed in November 2019, but was later vetoed by Mayor Hermant Marathe, who cited issues with how the ordinance was passed, but left open the possibility of working with the council on a new ordinance.

Through a grant from Sustainable Jersey, the environmental commission in West Windsor has distributed reusable bags at the local farmers’ market and worked to educate people to understand that single-use plastic waste is avoidable. Bags have also been distributed to hundreds of people in the region through local food banks and soup kitchens.

Commission Vice Chair Tirza Wahrman said the response at bag giveaway events has been excellent. “We’ll bring 400 bags to an event and they’ll be gone,” she said. “People love the bags.”