BY KELLY NICHOLAIDES
for Montclair Local
Months after Montclair tabled a ban on single-use plastic bags from all retail establishments following pushback from small business owners, a revised ordinance will only apply to customers shopping at box retailers.
If the ban is approved by the council on Nov. 18, it could take effect on Dec. 8.
Montclair’s ban would apply to high volume retail establishments with retail space of 2,500 square feet or larger; establishments that have at least three locations under the same name that total 2,500 square feet or more; pharmacies with at least two Montclair locations under the same ownership; and full-line self-service supermarkets that have gross sales in excess of $1 million.
Small business owners rallied against the ordinance, noting that the ban would be too restrictive. They took issue with charging customers 10-25 cents for paper bags and reflecting the charge on receipts. But a further ban could be in the works for smaller businesses.
“This isn’t the final word. It’s part one. There’s going to be an ordinance to apply to small businesses, but they have different issues that need to be addressed,” said town attorney Ira Karasick.
He said the purpose of a plastic bag ban is to get people to bring their own reusable bags.
But small businesses also have concerns with their bag inventory being part of their marketing, he said comparing Tiffany’s using a robin’s egg blue bag.
“Their [bag] inventory is a meaningful part of their sales. Their advertising has a certain look that’s identifiable,” he said about the small businesses that voiced concerns. Small business owners were also concerned that the ban would go into effect at the start of the holiday season.
A first attempt of an ordinance banning the bags was revised after the Mayor and Council heard comments from shop owners, the Montclair Environmental Commission and some residents. Karasick noted that in addition to not including small businesses in the bag ban, other revisions include removing the section on providing free paper bags for individuals who receive public assistance; making it optional, not mandatory, for merchants to offer customers reusables for 10-25 cents; and allowing businesses to apply for exclusions through the township manager as opposed to the governing body.
The 10-25 cent fee for paper or other reusables is an interim step in the direction of getting Montclair to go exclusively with reusables, Karasick noted, adding that paper also adds to the carbon footprint.
Proponents of a ban argue that plastic bags are a scourge on the environment— polluting oceans and killing marine animals.
Montclair Environment Commission co-chair Lyle Landon who did not respond to recent inquiries on the ban introduction, previously said that waiting for a state ban would be a detriment to the retailers, noting that shop owners could collect the fees for paper if a town-wide ban precedes a state ban.
“We hope that beyond this current big box ban, whatever the township chooses to implement regarding our businesses of 2,500 square feet and smaller is easy to understand and comply with,” said Jason Gleason, Acting Executive Director of the Montclair Business Improvement District.
Reusable bags are defined as follows: paper bags that display the words “recyclable” and/or “reusable”; bags made of cloth or washable fabric, with handles designed for multiple reuse; bags that can be used a minimum of 125 times and carry at least 22 pounds; and plastic bags that are at least 2.25 mil thick.
The ban does not apply to laundry bags; produce or product bags; package bulk items; bags for fruits, nuts, grains, candles, small hardware items, wrap flowers, potted plants, unwrapped prepared foods or bakery goods; dry cleaning bags; newspaper bags; and pharmacy prescription bags. Retailers can apply for an exemption and pay a $100 fee.
Violations of the ban come with fines of $100, $200 and $500, respectively, for first, second and third/subsequent offenses.