By Jaimie Julia Winters
Although legislation that would ban plastic bags throughout the state picked up momentum last week, Montclair is still pushing its businesses to act now in the reduction of single-use plastics.
The state bill would ban plastic grocery store bags in supermarkets, chain stores and retail establishments 2,000 square feet or more in size; styrofoam takeout food containers; and plastic straws, all of which are the worst culprits of waterway pollution. It would also impose a 10-cent fee on paper bags at grocery stores. The bill passed out of a Senate Committee last week.
But Montclair is not waiting on a statewide ban. Through the Environmental Commission, Montclair Center BID and Clean Water Action of Montclair, the town is lobbying restaurants and retailers to drop the bag, rethink the straw and disposable plastics all together.
Maura Toomey, a Montclair resident who is an organizer with Clean Water Action’s Montclair office, said that by lobbying for a volunteer drop the bag campaign now, both business owners and consumers in Montclair will be ready when a statewide ban goes into effect.
In November, Clean Water Action in Montclair began a local campaign to have restaurants provide straws by request only. The straw by request initiative has taken off with nine restaurants on board out of 22 approached.
“We don’t want to see a complete [straw] ban because some want them and need them such as people with disabilities,” she said.
The group is also pushing for food servers to move away from disposables and instead to serve food and drinks using reusable plates and glasses.
The initiative is picking up momentum. Last week at Montclair’s Oktoberfest, most food and drink vendors used reusable baskets with paper liners and glass steins for beer.
“It’s not only sustainable, but moving away from disposables can save the business $2,000 to $20,000 a year,” she said.
Pig and Prince this year stopped using cocktail stirrers and saved $2,000, she added.
The Environmental Commission formed a plastics team, with the goal of working together with the BID and the Upper Montclair Business Association to reduce the consumption of single-use plastics by businesses.
The team has been canvassing the business district to educate owners on reducing single-use plastics, styrofoam and disposables.
Take out, which is a booming business in Montclair, is a major problem, said Toomey. But the team is advocating a switch from styrofoam take-out containers to containers are made of recyclable plastic.
The statewide proposal was vetoed last month by Gov. Phil Murphy. It set a five cent charge on both plastic and paper bags with $23 million generating fund going toward Healthy Schools and Community Lead Abatement Fund. The bill now bans plastic completely and sets a 10 cent charge on paper bags with five cents going to the retailer and five cents toward pollution education.
Disposable food and beverage packaging makes up 67 percent of litter in commercial streets.
“If we don’t end the ‘throw-away’ lifestyle now, there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050,” according to the ReThink Disposable campaign.
Grocery bags can not be placed in recycling and contaminate the recycling process.
Residents who shop at Aldi’s or Whole Foods already receive incentives for bringing their own bags. Aldi’s charges for all bags, while Whole Foods gives 10 cents back per a bag.
Environmental co-chair Lyle Landon said it’s up to consumers to begin bringing their own bags. Her favorite bag is the ChicoBag, which is a lightweight foldable bag that can be stored in a purse or even a pocket.
Township Sustainability Officer Gray Russell said switching from plastic to paper, doesn’t solve the problem.
While paper bags are recyclable and biodegradable, they are more expensive to produce and transport, due to their weight, and as such produce a bigger carbon footprint than plastic.
“The idea is to start transitioning businesses on a voluntary basis reducing single-use bags. One simple thing businesses can do is always ask before giving a bag,” said Toomey. “We want to make sure the focus is not just on eliminating plastic bags, since paper bags also have an environmental impact.”
A Facebook group called “Plastic Free Montclair” keeps residents up-to-date on plastic free initiatives.