On a recent trip back home to Auckland, New Zealand, I was stunned by two things: the complete absence of single-use shopping bags and the mountain of reusable non-woven polypropylene plastic bags at my parents' home. So when I read about a Freedonia Custom Research study stating that New Jersey's ban on single-use plastic bags had actually boosted plastics consumption in the U.S. state I wasn't surprised at all.
In 2022, following implementation of the New Jersey bag ban, total bag volumes declined by more than 60% to 894 million bags. However, the study also shows, following New Jersey’s ban of single-use bags, the shift from plastic film to alternative bags resulted in a nearly 3x increase in plastic consumption for bags. At the same time, 6x more woven and non-woven polypropylene plastic was consumed to produce the reusable bags sold to consumers as an alternative.
Most of these alternative bags are made with non-woven polypropylene, which is not widely recycled in the United States and does not typically contain any post-consumer recycled materials. This shift in material also resulted in a notable environmental impact, with the increased consumption of polypropylene bags contributing to a 500% increase in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions compared to non-woven polypropylene bag production in 2015. Notably, non-woven polypropylene, NWPP, the dominant alternative bag material, consumes over 15 times more plastic and generates more than five times the amount of GHG emissions during production per bag than polyethylene plastic bags.
The study also found that New Jersey retailers obtained significant financial benefit through the switch from single-use to reusable bags. An in-depth cost analysis evaluating New Jersey grocery retailers reveals a typical store can profit $200,000 per store location from alternative bag sales – for one major retailer this amounts to an estimated $42 million in profit across all its bag sales in NJ.