Liquid Lines

Everybody Is Talking About Plastic Bag Bans ... Except Most People

Rising Above Plastics, the Mehhhhh Season and Warming Up
By JON COEN | May 16, 2018
Photo by: Jon Coen

Bag bans, the health of our waterways, paper straws, balloon launch ordinances … these are hot topics these days to everyone. As we slowly slide toward summer 2018, there’s a pretty obvious echo chamber. Let me explain.

If you’re living on LBI, if you’re connected to the surf community, any kind of environmentalist, involved in local politics, or a regular SandPaper reader, you’ve likely heard about the most recent movements to reduce single-use plastics.

On May 1, the Long Beach Township Plastic Bag ban went into effect. The Harvey Cedars ordinance will go into effect June 1. Several other municipalities are considering it. Now, consumers have the option to pay 10 cents for a paper bag or go through the hardships of bringing some sort of carrying container with them, usually a $2-to-$4 canvas tote. It’s what everyone’s talking about.

Let me be clear: This is a good thing.

But now go to ShopRite, Acme in Manahawkin, or any of the big box stores that have made Route 72 into the reality of all your shiny retail convenience dreams. Try to find someone using a reusable bag. It's cool, we’ll wait.

While it would seem to be the talk of the town, the conversation about single-use plastics would generally seem to be among people who live on the Island, or folks who live on the mainland but come over the bridge year ’round to work, eat, fish, surf, etc. (aka the lifeblood of LBI.) Then there is a small part of the population that is either environmentally engaged or simply think that a plastic bag ban is the next step toward totalitarian communism. But we think it's a big issue only if we’re in a certain bubble. If this is a topic of concern to you, social media would have you believe it’s all anyone cares about.

Take a look around a mainland supermarket and all you see are carts and carts full of plastic bags.

“Canvas totes? Never heard of ’em.”

Cases of single-use plastic water bottles are double bagged in single-use plastic bags loaded into giant SUVs. It’s still a blissful fossil-fuel polymer utopia. It seems pretty clear that the rest of Ocean County has just been going about living their lives. This is in a town that is actually considering a ban.

So while we (the folks who read these lines) assume there’s a long period groundswell of change coming, right now it’s more like a tiny chop washing across your ankle on the bay beach.

But hey, every swell starts as mere ripple, right? Overall, there have been some really cool changes happening around the area, and those have been led by local business leaders, environmental advocates and one superhero recycling coordinator. Think about it: We live in an area that is 100 percent dependent on tourism. They ain’t coming here because we’re a cultural destination. You can pretty much find a band playing “Sweet Caroline” in a bar at 1 a.m. in any town in the country.

They’re coming to LBI for our beach, our bay, the general esthetics of nature and a lifestyle inspired by it (on a barrier island where vinyl-sided box homes outnumber trees about 47.5 to 1.) Oh, and pickleball. They come for pickleball, too. So it would make sense that we take the very smallest baby steps toward keeping that environment clean.

Let’s look at this chronologically. In the 1950s, scientists had developed a high-density polyethelene for commercial products. By the mid-1980s, supermarkets in the U.S. started mostly using a new kind of plastic bag, designed to be used once. In 1987, while swimming in the ocean during what was called the “Syringe Tide,” a plastic wrapper landed in my hand. That’s how thick the trash was. That summer, it was estimated that the Jersey Shore lost $1 billion in revenue (I was 13, so I'm going by current research). Turns out people don’t want to swim in garbage. Thanks to efforts from local to national, we haven’t had another Syringe Tide. But it took another 30 years to ban single-use plastic bags and balloon launches here.

In addition to being disgusting floating in the marsh, harming wildlife or blowing into your bayberry tree, plastics are derived from fossil fuels, the same ones that when burned, damage the atmosphere, and allow Earth’s climate to change and the seas to rise. Plastics are not all bad. In fact, when it comes to keeping rain out of your house or a stent for your heart, their durability is useful. When it comes to a bag you will use once, their durability is stupid.

Sarcasm aside, the local initiatives are a positive direction.

Many of us started using paper bags about 15 years ago, even though the orange juice would sweat through the bag and it would fall apart in the car. Then we got a few canvas bags and used them … when we remembered. Eventually it became habit. Then pretty much every event we went to on LBI, someone was handing out reusable bags. We use them on every grocery trip and keep a few spares in the trunk.

I am not trying to get any praise. It’s not that hard. I once went to the Harvey Cedars Police Department after surfing, assuming they had towed my car. Turns out I had forgotten what street I parked on. The point is, I’m a dummy. If I can stop using plastic bags, anyone can do it.

It’s not like I hear David Attenborough narrating my trip through the grocery store in his distinguished English accent and “Planet Earth II” voice.

“And here we have the male of the species using a canvas tote bag that he obtained at a longboarding competition last summer. His efforts are a small part in reducing his environmental ….”

Come on. It’s a canvas bag. It’s like getting credit for breathing or not causing a 10-car accident in the parking lot. You can do it.

I will say it’s more of a challenge to make the switch for businesses. But after Mother’s Day brunch, I was talking to Steve DiPietro, distinguished chowder king and owner of several Island restaurants, and he pointed out the paper straws and paper soufflé cups.

“It was a bit of an issue last year when we started, but we’re already at the point where it’s normal,” he told me.

Several local restaurants are now using paper straws. Most folks applaud it. Some folks complain. Apparently, the U.S. uses 500 million plastic straws a day. I’m sure that’s a figure blown out of proportion by some liberal group with its own deep green agenda. It’s probably more like 480 million plastic straws. Now picture someone unwinding at the bar at happy hour after a hard day’s work trying to relax, but completely flustered by the nuances of a paper straw.

You have to give credit to Acme Market in Long Beach Township. They’ve done away with plastic bags and now offer paper bags. Those are more expensive for the store, so they are offset with the 10-cent fee. Now apparently, some folks are not happy about the dime. At seven bags, that’s 70 cents. Holy hell! Seventy cents!

Now, I’m plenty frugal. Like most folks here, I know what’s affordable on this sandbar and which $8.25 cartons of almond milk or $24 lobster rolls are strictly for vacation budgets. But I can’t seem to wrap my head around the 10-cent rage. Everything is more expensive on this side of the bridge. Let’s say someone spent at least $10 in gas to get down to Peahala Park. Assume if they’re buying groceries, they have a second home here or are renting in a place where the median home value is over $1 million. Either they’re going out to eat at a restaurant that is about 25 percent more than a comparable place on the mainland or buying groceries that are 25 percent more than a comparable place on the mainland. How do they justify arguing 70 cents all day in some locally based Facebook group?

And now it seems that some towns are giving away free bags, most likely to deflect those who are troubled by the extra 10 cents to their $2,000 weekend. But who’s going to pay for these municipal bags? Who gets a bag? Are they taxpayer funded? Will you be using our tax money to pay for bags that you probably got in bulk for $1 each? Hey, burning questions of sound fiscal responsibility. Be sure to hold your elected officials accountable.

SPRING WAVES, SPRING TIDES: Welcome to the most transitional time of year for surfing on LBI. If winter, summer and fall are times of extreme highs and lows, May might as well be called “Mehhhhhhhh.”

It’s certainly not a bad time of year. Hell, it will only take a few degrees of water temp and a few sessions of little bowls to make it one of the better overall times of the year. But this season is known for small swells, lack of defining offshore winds, and gray days. We’re getting a lot of that, although we did have our first thunderstorms of the season, and that’s always pretty exciting.

The good news is that after being stuck at the chilly 50-degree point for over two weeks, some north winds bumped the ocean temp up to about where we should be for mid-Mehhhhhh. The Atlantic City and Sandy Hook gauges were both reading about 57.5 early this week. That’s a nice jump, but it’s just as likely to drop as it is to continue rising, and there’s no major swell of interest to get excited about.

That said, we finally had some amazing weather. After a winter like that, every dinner in the backyard feels like the best meal you ever ate. Early Saturday was actually epic weather, even on the beach.

That said, the surf hasn’t been flat. We fear both summer and winter for periods of flat surf. The beauty of the transitional season is that if you really want it, you can find that tiny bit of wind slop at the right tide. But for the most part, it’s been gutless, onshore and pretty forgettable. If the water gets warmer, so will our attitude. We also need those summer sandbars to set up, the ones that can make the tiny bit of junk surf a bit more fun. I noticed a terrace about 20 yards off the beach in Ship Bottom that was almost out of the water at low tide on Saturday, a good sign of what’s to come.

And speaking of sand, Harvey Cedars and Surf City must have made some wisecrack about either the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers or Weeks Marine because they’re getting a pretty raw deal this summer. The Corps announced last week that the start of the latest round of beachfill for Harvey Cedars has already been bumped back to May 19.

These projects never adhere to the schedule, and the majority of the time they get backed up. The public, even those who support the projects, abhor them right when they are completed. It takes time for the beach to equalize into a more natural size and profile. Backing up the projects ensures that not only will we be dealing with buried sandbars, crazy shorebreak and possibly terrible swimming/surfing conditions, but Harvey Cedars will have beaches closed by 100 feet at a time at the start of summer and Surf City will have it well into the season. Someone must be irked at us.

That said, aside from where the pipes will be shooting their slurry, the next month is a fine time on this sandbar as we get a few weeks between winter and the full jam.

WHAT’S POPPIN: This is the annual “Wait. What? Next weekend is Memorial Day?!” time of year. Perhaps that nice officer had to remind you as you sped down the Boulevard at 10 miles over the recently changed speed limit. Or perhaps it’s the length of your to-do list before the onslaught.

Yes, it’s hard to believe the unofficial start of summer is a week away, especially since the last snowy owls felt Holgate was plenty Arctic until about 20 days ago. It’s nice when you have to make only one trip to the attic/basement/storage unit to put away the snow shovel and get out the inflatable beach toys.

The Island is going to transform in the next few weeks, and you’ll have so many options, you won’t know how to spend each day. And for locals, this thing called employment will make that choice for you.

In local shop news, Island Surf and Sail recently raised the roof (and the walls, doors, windows and rest of the shop.) The construction should be finishing up in June, and they are looking for a July 1 opening date. For now, if you need a wetsuit or surfboard, the shop line 609-494-5553 is routed directly to owner Terry Deakyne’s cell. He can help you out while the shop gets finished up. And when the big rains come in July, he and Jack Bushko can paddle through the parking lot and not the shop anymore.

The first paddle race of the season is South-End Surf N’ Paddle’s Hop Sauce Tune Up, which is the morning of Hop Sauce Fest, June 2. This will still be held at the Taylor Avenue waterfront.

There aren’t an overwhelming number of actual water-based events until the summer really heats up, but we’ll keep you posted. Hopefully you got your veggies planted last weekend. Other than that, you have to go grab some canvas tote bags.

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