Shortly after New Jersey enacted a strict plastic bag ban three months ago, employees at the Aberdeen ShopRite noticed something unusual: the store’s portable plastic baskets were disappearing.

They soon realized that cheeky shoppers who didn’t bring their own bags and didn’t want to buy 33-cent reusable bags were simply leaving the store with their groceries stuffed into the baskets.

“They took them out and never came back,” said an Aberdeen ShopRite employee who declined to be named. “We came down to no hand basket.”

And the Monmouth County store isn’t buying new baskets, making trash cans the latest grocery convenience to disappear in the wake of the plastic bag ban.

“If we get more, people will steal them again,” the employee added.

New Jersey banned single-use plastic bags from all store registries in addition to paper bags from major grocery stores on May 4. The Bag Ban Bill was signed into law in November 2020, giving stores and customers 18 months to prepare.

Despite the lengthy warning, several grocery stores across the state are reporting unprepared customers flouting basic shopping rules and common decency by stealing portable baskets.

“While most customers have adapted, unfortunately our members have seen an increase in customers taking baskets from stores and not returning them,” said Mary Ellen Peppard, vice president of the New Jersey Food Council, a group that represents grocers and supermarkets in the state. .

“These baskets are expensive and some stores have decided not to replace the baskets,” she said.

Peppard noted that the baskets usually cost $8, but the price may have increased due to inflation.

Michael Tarya, an employee at ShopRite of Metro Plaza in Jersey City, said portable shopping carts at his store were removed on May 1 before the plastic bag ban began days later.

Lindsay Della Rovere, spokesperson for ShopRite, said hand basket thefts were “a broader problem in the industry,” but could not say how many locations have removed the baskets entirely.

Hand baskets are still available at the Flemington ShopRite, but since the bag ban some people have used them to get items to their car and haven’t returned, said Shannon George, catering coordinator at the county store. of Somerset. Signage now tells customers that baskets cannot leave the store, she said.

ShopRite isn’t the only grocer dealing with theft.

A worker at Midland Park Acme in Bergen County said her store didn’t have baskets in stock this week because people were taking them away. When asked if baskets were available at an Acme in Woodbury in Gloucester County, an employee replied “right now, no, because everyone is stealing them”.

At the Bloomfield Stop and Shop, assistant manager Dan Adams said baskets at the Essex County store have been systematically stolen since the store eliminated free plastic bags.

“Anytime we order 15 or 30 hand baskets, in a week, they’re gone,” Adams said. “I order them every two weeks.”

Stefanie Shuman, a spokesperson for Stop and Shop, confirmed that her chain’s customers were also looting basket stacks.

“Like other retailers across the state, we have experienced theft of our portable shopping carts — an unintended consequence of the plastic and paper bag ban,” she said.

A spokesperson for Whole Foods Market also said their stores had “encountered issues with customers taking hand baskets as a result of the bag ban. However, we have not removed the hand baskets from our stores at this time. »

Not all chains lack baskets. Marcie Rivera, spokeswoman for Wegmans, said the chain had no problem with basket thefts. Spokespersons for Trader Joe’s, Acme, Aldi and Walmart did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

But grocers say the brazen basket thefts aren’t just happening in Jersey. Other states have also seen an increase in the theft of portable baskets after enacting plastic bag bans.

In 2020, shopping carts began disappearing from a Safeway in Redmond, Oregon, after a ban on plastic bags went into effect. Other Bend store workers also reported missing baskets, according to NewsChannel 21. Grocers also reported similar thefts in Connecticut, Wyoming and Seattle.

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Brianna Kudisch can be contacted at [email protected].