Bills mean increased costs for restaurants

Two major environmental bills are about to take effect in New Jersey, causing major changes to how restaurants operate.

The ban on plastic bags and foam containers and new regulations on take-out containers and bottles have forced restaurateurs to buy more expensive and environmentally friendly products.

While many restaurateurs see the change as an essential step for the environment, they also have concerns. Restaurants are still collapsing due to low profits during COVID, high food prices, labor shortages and inflation.

“The only bad thing about it is the timing,” said Stephen Chrisomalis, owner of Steve’s Burgers in Garfield and North Bergen.

The ban on plastic bags begins on May 4.

The bill states that food service companies, retail stores and grocery stores will not be able to give away or sell single-use plastic bags or styrofoam containers. Paper bags are permitted, except in grocery stores over 2,500 square feet. Reusable bags made of fabric, hemp, nylon and other washable fabrics can be distributed or sold.

By November 4, plastic straws will only be provided if a customer requests one.

Businesses affected by these rules include restaurants, cafes, delis, grocery stores, coffee shops, convenience stores, vending trucks or carts, food trucks, movie theaters, cafeterias, pharmacies, grocery stores, liquor stores, pharmacies and retail stores.

“I’m not against it,” said Rafael Vargas, owner of food truck Zoelily Empanadas. “But right now we’re seeing such an increase in costs that it’s hard to buy more expensive packaging. It won’t affect places like Walmart and Target as much. But for small businesses, we have to count every penny.

Another seismic shift for food companies is the passing of a recycled materials law.

In January, Governor Phil Murphy signed a bill requiring rigid plastic containers — like those often distributed for takeout orders — to contain at least 10% post-consumer recycled content by 2024. plastic drinks (bottles) must contain 15%.

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“Post-consumer recycled content” is material that has been used and discarded because it has reached the end of its “product life cycle,” according to the bill. Simply put, plastic containers and bottles will have to be made with a certain amount of recycled material by 2024.

Arjan Dema of Bergenfield is part of a group of Family Promise Bergen County volunteers helping to ensure those in need of food get a healthy meal.  Dema is shown here putting food into plastic bags before it is distributed.  Wednesday, February 24, 2021

The percentage of recycled materials required will gradually increase. The cap will be 50% post-consumer recycled content by 2036 for plastic containers and by 2045 for plastic beverage containers.

Glass bottles must also be made from 35% recycled materials; 20% for plastic bags; and 20% to 40% for paper bags, depending on their size. Regulations will also be placed on plastic garbage bags. Foam packing peanuts will be banned by 2024.

Since the pandemic began, post-consumer materials have been hard to come by, said Alex Mazzucca, co-owner of Seed to Sprout at Avon, which cooks vegetarian meals with organic ingredients.

“This transition is going to be interesting because of the timing,” she said. “Every week there’s something we can’t get.”

She has been using compostable, biodegradable and post-consumer recycled products since the restaurant opened nearly 10 years ago.

“We are so happy with this bill,” she said. “The food industry has a huge impact on our environment. We want to be able to produce as much food while having the least possible impact on the environment. »

The responsibility for creating new containers and bottles from recycled materials will largely rest with manufacturing companies. But more expensive materials will translate to higher prices for takeout containers and bottles. Ultimately, restaurateurs will have to pay for this difference.

Vargas of Zoelily Empanadas separates her empanadas into different containers and donates plastic bags so people can carry those containers. Without the bags, he says, customers will be inconvenienced.

But he is less worried about the loss of his plastic products and more dismayed by the lack of government help.

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“Guidance is non-existent,” said Vargas, who is still working out the details of the recyclable bill and how it will affect it.

Gustavo Gutierrez anticipated the plastic ban when he opened the Cubita Café in Nutley earlier this year.

“Change is the only constant in this industry,” he said.

Gutierrez incorporated recyclable bags and containers into his business plan. It uses Earthchoice-branded gray containers, made from recycled materials, and Cubita Café-branded paper bags.

Signs like this one at an ACME supermarket in Hudson County have been placed in grocery stores and other locations to inform the public of New Jersey's new plastic bag ban.

“To be honest, they look better than those plastic ‘Have a Nice Day’ bags,” he said.

In principle, Gutierrez is willing to pay the extra money to use more durable materials. Clemence Danko, owner of ChocOPain, which has locations throughout Hudson County, agrees.

“It’s the right thing to do, and it’s time we took this kind of action to protect the environment,” Danko said.

Chrisomalis, of Steve’s Burgers, switched to paper bags and recycled containers, but it cost him dearly. Creating a stamp to mark her paper bags cost over $1,000. Its paper bags cost around $1 per bag, while plastic bags cost around 10 cents.

“With food prices and inflation, people are suffering,” he said. “I just wish the state would help small businesses instead of imposing more regulations on them.”

Not to mention, he says, that paper straws are completely impractical for his thick milkshakes.

A slower rollout of environmental regulations when the supply chain recovered would have been more viable for small businesses, Chrisomalis said.

However, he ultimately agrees with Gutierrez, who said: “At the end of the day, it’s a small fee to pay. We would like to pay 10 cents more for a bag when we have no planet for our children to grow up on.

Rebecca King is a food writer for To find out more about where to dine and drink, please register today and join our North Jersey Eats Newsletter.


Twitter: @rebeccakingnj

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Bryce K. Locke