Legality of Plastic Bag Ban Raised in Surf City

Dec 20, 2017
File Photo by: Jack Reynolds

Ship Bottom Councilman Tom Tallon isn’t the only Island official not sold on the idea of prohibiting businesses from distributing single-stream plastic bags. When the topic was raised at the Surf City Borough Council’s monthly meeting, Councilman Pete Hartney shared his reservations about adopting a ban that doesn’t apply across the board.

“It’s not applied equally to everyone,” Hartney said of the ban approved by the Long Beach Township Board of Commissioners last month, noting the ordinance excludes bait shops from the injunction. “We are stewards of the law. There are constitutional questions. If someone sues us, are you going to be there to defend us?”

He was speaking to Teresa Hagan, Mary Wilding and Michelle Farias, who have been making the rounds in favor of the ban. They addressed the Ship Bottom council last month.

“It’s a burden on the business owners,” he said. “I think we need to take the responsibility and put it on the end users.”

Hartney, like other local officials, noted plastic bags wouldn’t be prohibited from being on the Island, only from stores using them. They would still be coming over from anyone shopping on the mainland, or visitors who choose to bring them when they vacation.

“It’s about education,” he said. “At the (Surf City) farmer’s market we provide canvas bags. People are getting there.”

Farias, whose family owns Farias Surf and Sport in Ship Bottom, Surf City and Beach Haven, however, said “you educate by doing. There will be some pitfalls. We made the change from plastic to paper. It’s (brown bags) a way of life in California. When you go shopping, you can bring your own bags. It can be done.”

Wilding, who lives in Harvey Cedars and is asking the council there to consider a similar ban, said there needs to be a starting point so people can see how to make it better.

“We all need to do our part,” Wilding added.

Hagan, who lives in the North Beach section of the township, said they are expecting push back on their drive to rid the Island of single-stream plastic bags.

“I am the person,” she said, “who is going to push back on the individual pushing back.”

In November, Long Beach Township officials, citing their belief they have a duty to investigate and implement any and all necessary and proper steps to protect the environment, public health, welfare and safety, adopted Ordinance 17-31 C, which is expected to take effect in the spring.

“It is beyond dispute that the use of single-use plastic carryout bags has a severe and negative environmental impact on the local and global environment as a result of the greenhouse gas emissions emitted to produce such bags, the land-based and ocean-based pollution created, the hazards posed to wildlife, the blocking of storm drains by plastic, the hazards posed to sources of water for humans, and the negative impact on the ecosystem and food chain as a whole,” the ordinance reads.

The township ordinance notes that, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, as many as one trillion plastic bags are used worldwide each year. It’s estimated less than 5 percent of that plastic is recycled.

Other questions about the plastic bag ban surrounded the plastic bags used for produce, and those some people use for meats when they food shop. Hagan said she would look into the concern and return with an answer, noting the answer to a plastic bag embargo is canvas bags.

Mayor Francis Hodgson said the council would definitely take the measure under consideration in the new year. Ship Bottom and Beach Haven are expected to do the same, with Beach Haven Mayor Nancy Taggart Davis leading the charge in her town.

— Gina G. Scala

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