Plastic bags at supermarkets could be banned as soon as Dec. 8.
COURTESY/Griffin Wooldridge

BY JAIMIE JULIA WINTERS
winters@montclairlocal.new

A plastic bag ban to go into effect in 20 days, intended for big box stores only, almost passed on Monday with a glitch that could have affected most small businesses in Montclair. 

The ordinance, penned by township attorney Ira Karasick with input from the township manager, was supposed to only affect the big guys — supermarkets, big box stores and pharmacy chains. According to the language in the ordinance, the ban would pertain to retail establishments that “have a retail space of 2,500 square feet or larger, or have at least three locations under the same name within the township that total 2,500 square feet, or retail pharmacies with at least two locations under the same ownership within the township.” 

The ban also takes effect in “supermarkets, that had annual gross sales in excess of $1,000,000 during the previous tax year, and which sell a line of dry groceries, canned goods, or nonfood items and some perishable items.”

However, Scott Kennedy, owner of Studio042, a commercial business printer on Bloomfield Avenue, pointed out that most small businesses in Montclair are 2,500 square feet, and therefore the ban would affect more than just supermarkets and big pharmacies. 

“At this number you essentially swept all of the businesses in Montclair into this,” he said. 

The 2,500-square-foot number would apply the ban to Kennedy’s business, he said, as well as Cuban Pete’s, Egan and Sons, Williams and Sonoma, Dr. Cameron veterinary services, the Antique Center, and the Gap.

The council, environmental commission and business owners have been going back and forth over a plastic ban for a year. An earlier version that would place a ban on all retail was tabled following pushback from small business owners.

Kennedy suggested that the ordinance be amended to 20,000 square feet, so that it would only pertain to the big box stores. 

Ditch the bag
Montclair residents are preparing to stop using plastic bags.
PHOTO COURTESY MAURA TOOMEY

Councilman Sean Spiller said the township manager and attorney have met with the larger stores such as Acme, Whole Foods and CVS, all of which are on board and ready to rid their stores of plastic bags.

Karasick said he took the 2,500 number from other ordinances in towns across the country with bag ban laws. 

Mayor Robert Jackson said he was under the impression that ban was only hitting about 10-20 big box stores that used the plastic regularly, and were already on board with a ban. 

“That was our intention,” he said.

Karasick said that amending the ordinance from 2,500 to 20,000 square feet would be “substantial enough” to require the ordinance going back to a first reading. 

Kennedy argued that changing the number to 20,000 square would actually make the ordinance less restrictive, not more. Jackson agreed. 

Karasick said finally that the ordinance could be amended with the intent of the ordinance, which was to hit the big box stores, and the council could vote that night.

The ban on big box stores is expected to reduce plastic bags by 40 percent in Montclair, said Environmental Commission Chair Lyle Landon. The change would not affect that number, the mayor said.

Businesses can apply for an exception through the township manager.

Landon told the council she was concerned with the change in the ordinance that made the ban take effect in 20 days period rather than the original 90-day period, saying the commission had hoped to educate the public with a phase-in period.

Small-business owners rallied against an original ordinance that would have banned single-use plastic bags from all businesses, noting it would be too restrictive. The small business owners have concerns with their bag inventory being part of their marketing, and took issue with charging customers 10-25 cents for paper bags and reflecting the charge on receipts. They also did not want the ban to affect holiday sales, with many businesses having ordered their packaging inventory months ago.

A further bag ordinance will be in the works for smaller businesses, however. 

“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,” Karasick said after the ordinance was first introduced.

About 10 students from the Roots and Shoots environmental club at Edgemont School spoke in favor of the ban on Monday, Nov. 18.