Single-Use Plastic Bag Ban Gaining Momentum

Jan 17, 2018
Photo by: Ryan Morrill Plastic bag litter in the Manahawkin section of the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge.

Stafford Township officials could fast track an ordinance prohibiting local businesses from offering single-use plastic bags, while Long Beach Island communities are divided on the issue.

Stafford officials expect to introduce an ordinance similar to the one adopted by Long Beach Township last fall at its Feb. 13 meeting. Should Stafford Township officials successfully adopt the ordinance on second reading just two weeks later, it could remove concern some Island communities have about residents, seasonal homeowners and tourists going to the mainland and bringing back single-use plastic bags.

“We have a huge stake in the quality of waterways and the bays,” Stafford Township Administrator Jim Moran said earlier this week, noting the town attorney is reviewing the Long Beach Township ordinance and that the mayor is supportive of taking action to eliminate the commercial use of single-use carry-out bags. “Like recycling, it has to become a way of life.”

Stafford Township was the first municipality in the state to recycle plastics, and a few years ago tried to ban the use of plastic bags for the delivery of certain mail items. It lost that fight.

“Plastic bags are not a good idea,” Stafford Mayor John Spodofora said. “There are a lot of problems with them. I commend Long Beach Township for taking the lead on this. The fact they got this through makes it easier for the rest of us. I am so thrilled other towns are doing this. Once this gains momentum, I think everyone will get on board.”

Spodofora said the township is looking to adopt a measure that is tailor-made for its community and businesses. In November, the Long Beach Township Board of Commissioners became the first governing body in the state to universally prohibit the commercial use of single-use plastic bags. In 2015, Ocean City officials elected to charge a 10-cent fee for plastic bags.

“We can’t have plastic bags floating around in water,” Long Beach Township Mayor Joseph Mancini said. “It’s just ridiculous. It’s time to get rid of them.”

Mancini, who owns a home near Brunswick, Maine, the gateway community to Maine’s mid coast, said that community enacted a similar ban last March. It went into effect Sept. 1, 2017.

“It’s a resort area,” he said of the similarities with the Long Beach Island region. “It depends on its coastline for recreation and for lobster.”

Mancini said the township isn’t looking to create a hardship for businesses or residents. In fact, the township is expected to hand out two reusable bags per household to help jump start residents thinking about bringing their own bags.

“We’re not outlawing plastic bags,” he said, noting plastic bags for produce and meats are not part of the ordinance. Neither are plastic bags used for bait. “No one wants their car to smell like moss bunker. Fishermen are very environmentally friendly people.”

Others Getting

On Ban-Wagon

Harvey Cedars officials are expected to adopt an ordinance similar to Long Beach Township’s following a public hearing Feb. 2. If adopted, the measure would take effect June 1. Borough Clerk Daina Dale said the lag time would permit local businesses adequate time to prepare. Under the measure, customers of Harvey Cedars-based businesses will need to bring reusable bags to the stores, or pay a fee for recycled plastic bags.

Mayor Jonathan Oldham recently noted plastic bags are not biodegradable, a sentiment seconded by Spodofora, who said even plastic bags reported to be biodegradable are not if the proper conditions don’t exist. Bags that are said to be biodegradable in water will not deteriorate in a landfill that is lined, he explained. The same is true for plastic bags that are said to degrade under ultraviolet lights, but are not exposed to ultraviolet light.

Beach Haven’s attorney is reviewing the Long Beach Township ordinance, according to Sherry Mason, borough clerk. Officials there expect to introduce an ordinance sometime this winter, but a date hasn’t been.

In November, when the issue first came up, Mayor Nancy Taggart Davis noted how harmful plastic bags are to marine animals, and how they’re the most common garbage items found on beaches. In marine environments, according to Taggart Davis, many animals, including sea turtles, confuse plastic bags littering the ocean for food. If consumed, the plastic bags block the digestive tract, leading to a slow death for marine animals.

“Like the township, we are a shore community, and we have to do what we can to protect the environment,” she said. “In Hawaii and California, the plastic bag ban is statewide.”

Additionally, the Garden Club of Long Beach Island is joining the fight to end the commercial use of single-use plastic bags, according to Mary Wilding, a club member, who along with Teresa Hagan and Michelle Farias have asked other Island communities to consider the outright ban.

Wilding, a Harvey Cedars resident, said the club will offer non-woven polypropylene reusable bags. She said her research indicates the non-woven bags are the best to use.

Certain Towns

Remain Unconvinced

Wilding, Hagan and Farias addressed Ship Bottom and Surf City officials at the end of last year, hoping to sway them to take action in favor of a complete embargo of single-use plastic bags. Instead, they found themselves faced with some pushback.

In Ship Bottom, where a presentation was made in November, Councilman Tom Tallon questioned whether there was a better way to regulate single-use plastic bag usage, such as education. He argued an outright ban of the bags would be a hardship for older people, who find it easier to use single-use plastic bags when food shopping.

It’s a matter of litigation in Surf City, where Councilman Pete Hartney last month questioned the legality of an outright ban that doesn’t apply across the board because it excludes bait shops.

“We are stewards of the law. There are constitutional questions. If someone sues us, are you going to be there to defend us? It’s a burden to the taxpayers. I think we need to take the responsibility and put it on the end users,” he said during the council’s December meeting.

Also last month, Barnegat Light Mayor Kirk Larson said the borough hasn’t decided what it will do about single-use plastic bags. The current consensus in town is to wait and see how the ban works in other shore communities.

— Gina G. Scala and Eric Englund

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