Patcong Creek Foundation/A fee on single-use bags went into effect Jan. 1 in Somers Point. Reusable bags are becoming the norm, according to a study.

SOMERS POINT – A survey conducted by Stockton University students suggests that consumer behavior has shifted for the shoppers of ShopRite in Somers Point as a result of the new single-use plastic bag fee that was implemented by City Council in January.

The bag ordinance requires retail stores to charge a 5-cents fee for each single-use plastic bag used by the consumer. The fee was intended to decrease the use of plastic, reduce waste and protect wildlife.

On Saturday, Feb. 9, a group of Stockton students surveyed shoppers at the Somers Point ShopRite to determine if the bag fee inspired them to use reusable bags when shopping, or if they would continue to use plastic bags.

There were 172 shoppers who participated in the survey, which revealed 60 percent of those surveyed were using reusable bags that day, and only 7 percent were using single-use plastic bags. Thirty-three percent were not using any bags at all.

“Those who did not have any bags said they didn’t want to pay the fee, or they left their reusable bags at home,” said Haley Vernon, who spearheaded the survey with two other Stockton students. “They left the items in their cart and said they had boxes in their cars to carry them home.”

When asked the reason why they were not using plastic bags, more than 50 percent of shoppers specifically mentioned the bag fee as the reason they switched to a reusable bag or chose to go bag-free.

Vernon, 20, of Ocean City, is a junior enrolled in the sustainability program at Stockton’s Galloway Township campus and the leader of the survey team, which included two other students enrolled in the natural sciences and mathematics programs.

Vernon said she conducted the survey as independent research, but she presented the results to her professors and at a meeting with ShopRite management, the Patcong Creek Foundation and Somers Point schools Superintendent Michelle Carney-Ray Yoder.

“Based on studies and surveys conducted in regions that had implemented similar bag fee structures, we expected that 20 percent of people would still be utilizing single-use plastic. The fact that only 7 percent actually continued to use plastic was really encouraging,” Vernon said.

The survey also showed that more than half of the people surveyed switched to using reusable bags during the six months before the ordinance took effect, but 30 percent had been using reusable bags for more than three years. Fifty-six percent said they switched from plastic bags because of the fee, and 26 percent said they did so for environmental reasons.

Vernon and her team intend to conduct similar surveys at the ShopRite locations in Egg Harbor Township and Marmora to compare the results.

“We expect conducting surveys in stores in nearby communities that have not implemented a bag fee ordinance will reveal data that will further prove the effectiveness of the Somers Point ordinance,” she said.

Vernon said the team took note of the types of bags people were using. The survey was conducted after ShopRite had distributed or sold approximately 83,000 reusable bags with their logo during the 30 days before the ordinance took effect.

“People were definitely using them,” she said.

Vernon said the survey shows ShopRite shoppers were heavily influenced by the new fee structure and has led to increases public awareness about the harm plastic causes.

Somers Point Councilman Ron Meischker, who spearheaded the push for the bag fee, applauded the survey’s findings.

“The intent of the fee structure was to dissuade people from using single-use plastic bags,” Meischker said. “This survey shows that the ordinance has been effective in doing just that.”

Vernon said she obtained permission from ShopRite management before conducting the survey in front of their store.

There is no date set for the team’s next survey, but Vernon said she hopes to get to it before the end of the semester in May.