By Kelly Nicholaides
for Montclair Local
The ubiquitous single-use plastic bags at supermarkets, retail chains and small businesses pile up in oceans and pollute landscapes. Their scourge on ecosystems is fueled by fast consumer-driven lifestyles. The crinkly bags kill an estimated 100,000 marine animals annually and languish in landfills for up to 500 years. In New Jersey, shore communities have banned the bags, while most North Jersey towns have balked.
The Montclair Mayor and Council may vote at its April meeting to ban single-use plastic bags from all businesses, requiring merchants to comply by July. The Montclair Environmental Commission discussed a draft resolution on March 13 to recommend a ban, modeled after Hoboken’s, which also includes plastic straws provided by consumer request only.
“The ban would not apply to produce bags, product [packaging], pharmacy, newspapers and laundry,” said Lyle Landon, MEC Co-Chair. “Its success would be measured by the DPW tonnage report.”
Montclair spends approximately $85 a ton on household trash, averaging $1.3 million a year. A single-use plastics bag ban could reduce costs since the bags cannot be placed in recycling bins.
A temporary exemption on the ban could be granted if a business bought a year’s worth of plastic bags, for example, and had difficulty selling them, she noted.
Nancy Sutherland, who operates Nancy’s Place convenience store at North Fullerton Avenue said she goes through an $8 box of 1,000 single use plastic bags monthly, but prefers using the $8 box of 500 small paper bags. “I do use the plastic bags, but I give out paper for the most part. It depends on what the customers ask for. Some don’t want a bag at all. I’m all for a ban [on single-use plastic bags],” Sutherland said.
Montclair Township Sustainability Officer Gray Russell acknowledged that consumers switching from plastic to paper at the register is not a panacea. Paper bags are recyclable and biodegradable, but require a larger carbon footprint from production to transport. He supports the straws by request option. “Turtles get plastic straws stuck up their noses. Paper bags are a big energy user and polluter. Takeout containers should be made of recyclable materials, not Styrofoam. Think about it in terms of life cycle analysis [of creating a product],” Russell said.
A ban on single-use plastic bags that sometimes double as trash can liners or dog poop containers may increase sales of garbage bags, he added.
Paper or plastic, reducing their use and reuse is lacking but it’s more important than recycling, said Maura Toomey, North Jersey’s organizer for Clean Water Action’s Rethink Disposables program. She noted in a Dec. 5, 2017 blog post that businesses save money on waste disposal and supply purchases by voluntarily reducing disposables like the 500 million plastic straws a day used in the United States.
Chain stores and eateries are the targeted source points to reduce single-use plastics.
The MEC, Montclair Center BID and Clean Water Action have lobbied restaurants and retailers to voluntarily reduce or dispose of plastics and provide straws only by request. Nine out of 22 restaurants were on board with the straws optional. The goal is to transition businesses to reduce use and opt for recyclable plastic takeout containers. Packaging for disposable food and beverages make up 67 percent of litter in commercial streets.
ACME officials said it participates in many green initiatives including recycling plastic bags in their stores. “We believe that when ordinances such as these are dealt with on a local level, ACME is left at a competitive disadvantage against retailers in neighboring towns who are not affected by the same ordinance. While we would rather see ordinances like this handled by the state instead of individual municipalities, ACME will continue to comply with all ordinances set by our local communities,” said Dana Ward, Communications Manager, ACME.
Whole Foods shoppers receive incentives for bringing their own bags and gives 10 cents back per bag. Aldi’s charges for all bags.
Kings operates two food markets in Hoboken and one in Montclair. “Kings works hand-in-hand with all municipalities,” said spokesperson Kim Yorio of YC Media. “We would be happy to comply with a ban in Montclair after a very successful rollout in Hoboken.”
Although the Garden State has stalled in legislative efforts to ban single-use plastic bags, many towns have taken a local initiative. At least 16 municipalities have ditched or restricted single-use plastic bags. A Nov. 29, 2018 Star Ledger report by Michael Sol Warren lists Atlantic County towns with bag bans. Up north, Hoboken’s ban went into effect earlier this year. Jersey City’s ban goes into effect in June.