Food Truck Owners Embrace NJ Plastic Bag, Styrofoam Ban But Still Adapt

Between cooking tacos and serving waffle fries, Ryan Conway says he makes sure to slip in a few questions while he completes orders.

“We always ask them if they want plastic utensils or a paper bag. It is not given automatically. We always ask. We had four people sitting here before,” said Conway, co-owner of Johnny Rippas, a Dayton-based TexMex food truck. “They ordered a bunch of food, and when they were done they folded their bags and said they weren’t using them. If we wanted them back.

Conway said for sanitary reasons he did not reuse the bags for other orders. Instead, they were properly eliminated. But he was happy to hear customers thought that way, he said.

“You don’t want to waste, nobody does,” Conway said.

Just over a week after New Jersey’s strict ban on single-use plastic bags and polystyrene-like products began statewide on May 4, businesses are embracing the new rules in a variety of ways. . Among them, food trucks, which can no longer provide plastic bags or serve meals in polystyrene foam containers or provide polystyrene cups or plates. Business owners, whether mobile or not, can also only dispense straws if customers request them.

Food trucks can continue to supply paper bags, per the law signed by Governor Phil Murphy on November 4, 2020.

For some restaurants, the transition has meant another financial hit on top of the woes of the COVID-19 pandemic with many plastic bag supplies still available for restaurants and paper alternatives often costing more. Plastic bags can cost as little as 7 cents each, while paper can cost up to 29 cents per bag, owners said. While the numbers may seem low, restaurant owners said these costs can add up.

Most food truck owners NJ Advance Media spoke to said they were ready for New Jersey’s ban on single-use plastic bags and styrofoam — though it will have to adapt to it.

Bobby Hansen, left, and Ryan Conway at the Johnny Rippas food truck on Rt 130 South in Dayton. Tuesday, May 10, 2022.Patti Soap | NJ advance media

Owners like Conway and Bobby Hansen, his partner in the business, said they were looking for ways to move beyond the ban. For example, the company never provided straws or polystyrene packaging to begin with.

“I think people, especially during COVID, have become more nimble in terms of expectations of what they’re going to get. Whether it’s formula you can’t buy right now or what we don’t have to abide by (the bag ban),” Hansen said. “We also try to be environmentally friendly. I think for people, as long as the food is good, there were no problems.

But some food truck owners have been taken by surprise by the product bans, like Clara Vezos.

Owner of A La Carte Food Truck in Newark, Vezos said on Tuesday that she had still not calculated how much money she would lose by making the transition required by the ban. And although she doesn’t use polystyrene, plastic bags are the norm for her 16-year-old business.

“It’s easier for customers to give them the plastic bags to take away, so I’m still figuring it out. Also, paper bags are more expensive, especially if you are a business that sells very cheap food. So no, it’s not practical,” Vezos said in Spanish.

The bulk of A La Carte Food Truck’s customers are New Jersey Institute of Technology and Rutgers University students looking for a burger or hot dog to grab between classes. The COVID-19 pandemic has closed campuses and moved classes online for much of the past two years. Now that some students are back, serving can get tricky when plastic bags are out of the equation.

“They have their book bags, their textbooks, it’s hard to (go bagless) or hand them a paper bag with no handles to hold on to,” Vezos said.

Vezos estimated that she still had more than 100 plastic bags left, which she is reluctant to donate or throw away because she has already spent money on them, she said.

“Call me in a week or two…I’m still figuring it out,” she said.

Johnny Rippas food truck

A customer picks up their order at the Johnny Rippas food truck on Rt 130 South in Dayton. Tuesday, May 10, 2022.Patti Soap | NJ advance media

Conway and Hansen also have 100 single-use plastic bags, which they plan to reuse. Everything from takeout to delivery is now handled in their biodegradable takeout boxes and brown paper bags – which come in handled and “lunch bag” versions, the pair said.

About 45 miles north, the Arctic Dog food truck in Randolph does better.

Partly in anticipation of the bag ban, but also in hopes of being more sustainable, owner Jesse Glauberg said his business went bagless shortly after launching about two years ago. The Arctic Dog never served its original combo of hot dogs and shaved ice in polystyrene containers.

“We use paper boats for all of our hot dogs and then wax paper in between. If we ever need containers, we have plastic clamshell containers for takeout orders,” Glauberg said.

“We just don’t have (bags). If people need to hold things, they just bring their own,” he added.

Kerrie Sendall, an assistant professor of biology at Rider University, said restaurants and food trucks can find a variety of alternatives to supply now that the ban is in place.

“There are many more durable food containers that are easily biodegradable and would be a good replacement for polystyrene foam. Things like (paper containers), which are probably a bit more expensive now, but should come down in price as demand increases,” Sendall said.

In Jersey City, the start of bag and styrofoam bans on May 4 was just another day for food truck owners. The second-largest city in the state instituted a municipal plastic bag ban in 2019.

“It’s nothing new for us. I’ve been using paper bags for several years and we’ve never used polystyrene, so we’re fine with anything that’s good for the environment,” said Chris Curado, owner of the seafood food truck. Angry Archie’s sea.

Reception among customers has been good, Curado said. Like Johnny Rippas, people arriving at Angry Archie’s will always be asked if they want a bag with their food, unless it’s a particularly large order.

“Supply chain (issues were) the real issue last year with paper bags and paper goods. So we’ll see how it goes this year,” Curado said. and find a different source for them if you must and eventually you’ll find something.”

Johnny Rippas food truck

The fries are served in paper at the Johnny Rippas food truck on Rt 130 South in Dayton. Tuesday, May 10, 2022.Patti Soap | NJ advance media

For more information on the ban, visit nj.com/plasticbagban.

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Steven Rodas can be reached at srodas@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @stevenrodasnj.

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