Stafford Introduces Ban of Plastic Bags at Businesses

But Adoption Awaits Months of Discourse
By DAVID BIGGY | Feb 21, 2018
File Photo by: Ryan Morrill

On the heels of similar ordinances passed in two Long Beach Island towns, the Stafford Township Council on Feb. 13 officially introduced its own version of a law that will ban the use of single-use plastic bags for township businesses.

During its regular meeting, the council offered Ordinance 2018-06 for first reading. Its intent is to regulate and limit “the use of plastic bags by businesses and newspapers and advertisers in the township.”

As is standard practice by the council to bring back ordinances adopted upon first reading, the normal wait time for an ordinance to return for a public hearing and council final vote is two weeks. Mayor John Spodofora said this one would be on hold for a few months before it is considered for final passage, and there may be subtle changes to the language.

“The previous three ordinances (introduced prior to 2018-06) will have the normal two-week period before we have final reading for adoption,” he stated. “This one, we’re going to give a little more time, because we want to collect as much information and feedback from the local businesses and such as we can, to make sure we get it right.”

The ordinance language is fairly straightforward. It states the council “believes it has a duty to investigate and implement any and all necessary and proper steps the Township can take to protect the environment and the public health, welfare and safety.”

Citing many environmental problems and multiple sources regarding such, the ordinance is designed to help vastly reduce the amount of plastic bag waste that ends up in landfills and, ultimately, into the environment – particularly as it pertains to the local waterways, Barnegat Bay and the Atlantic Ocean.

With a few exceptions, the ordinance effectively would end the provision of most types of plastic bags from businesses to consumers. From Kohl’s to ShopRite and Acme, The Home Depot to Target and Walmart, Michael’s to Best Buy and Staples, all types of “carry-out” plastic bags will be banned.

Similar to other laws passed throughout the country, the exceptions are plastic bags used for bait; those used to store produce, meats, frozen and deli foods and flowers; those used by pet stores to tote live fish; dry cleaner and door hangar bags; and those sold in packages, such as garbage liners and pet-waste bags. Also, food-assistance programs will be exempt and permitted to use plastic bags to carry food items and meals.

Spodofora said after the meeting that the council is hoping to bring back the ordinance for its second reading and possible adoption sometime in July, and from there businesses will have 120 days, or about four months, to use up its existing plastic bag supplies – right about the time of Thanksgiving. If it passes, any business found in violation of the law will be subject to a fine of up to $500 for each violation.

The council members seem to expect some level of pushback, but generally seem to believe most businesses in town will make the necessary adjustments.

One resident, Russ Davis, addressed the council at the end of the meeting, openly wondering how the elimination of single-use bags in town will make much of an impact.

“I realize we have to minimize our footprint. But I’m not sure what we do in Stafford Township is going to improve that footprint,” he said. “It seems the burden is always on the businesses in this township, and that is passed on to us. We’re going to bear the cost associated with not having those bags. If businesses have to go through an added expense of paper or multi-use bags, where do you think that cost is going to get added? It’s going to come back to us.”

Citing some of the most recent efforts by Long Beach Township and Harvey Cedars to do the same, Councilman David Taylor said the impact has to start from somewhere.

“I have a lot of business friends, and at first they had the same reaction,” he explained. “But then they researched it a little bit and they can get paper bags that are cheaper. It’s no different than recycling. Nobody wanted to do it in the beginning, but now it’s like nature. You get used to it. It’s just a new way of doing things.

“We’re a shore community. And (the bags) end up in the bay. They end up in the fish. It’s not good for anybody. There’s no benefit for anybody in that aspect of it.

“And once this happens, and we all join in, it will go up and down the shore. But it’s got to start somewhere.”

Resident Jay Hoover said he uses single-use bags for many things, such as lining smaller trash cans and picking up pet waste, and he doesn’t intend to stop doing so –by going online through Amazon Prime to get bags that will cost him an average of 4.5 cents.

Spodofora did his best to discourage such action.

“Take a look at the debris from plastic bags,” he said. “Ride up Route 72. Ride up a lot of streets and see what’s there. Think about what they’re doing to the ecosystem and the food chain. The dilemma is there is a significant problem that has been identified by numerous scientists all over the world. The data we see on plastic bags and plastic in the ocean is significant.

“It scares me to think about the amount of micro-plastics getting into the food chain right now. This stuff doesn’t disappear. It just continues to multiple. There is an absolute issue out there that we’re sort of obligated, by being here, to address.”

Local businessman, activist and Stafford Township School District Board of Education member Joe Mangino recently conducted a poll through the START organization’s Facebook page, and the initial results were that 52 percent were in favor of a plastic-bag ban in Stafford, while 48 percent were opposed.

“For years I worked as a wildlife biologist at the Atlantic County landfill, certified as a manager of landfill operation, and I could see how quickly a cell fills up. There’s a finite amount of landfill space out there,” he said. “My big concern is micro-plastics in our food. Our current use of plastic – not just here, but around the world – is unsustainable, and we can’t keep going on like this. I’m all about reduction and using plastic as little as possible.”

During the coming months, Spodofora and many on the council intend to have in-depth discussions with local business owners, civic groups and other organizations regarding their concerns and addressing questions they might have.

“Our intention of doing this, in the first place, is to make sure it is a win-win situation for both businesses and residents of Stafford Township,” said Councilwoman Sharon McKenna. “We want to make sure the environment is clean and safe, and that’s why we want to have this three months, to have this discussion. It’s important to have this discourse.”

Spodofora clearly spoke to that intention.

“This is a first run at this. That’s why I’m telling you it’s going to be a few months before final adoption,” he said. “We are going to be reaching out to all the local businesses. We’re going to be reaching out to the Chamber of Commerce. We’re going to be reaching out to a lot of people to try to fine-tune this ordinance. We’re talking to a lot of other towns and other states that have imposed this ban and trying to find out what is the best thing for both businesses and consumers.”

Councilman Alan Smith concluded the discussion at the meeting by throwing out a question.

“Over the course of the next months, when we’re going through this, there’s that question that has to be asked and answered: What is the right thing to do?” he said. “Sometimes doing the right thing is uncomfortable early on, and then we adapt. There will be folks coming up to that microphone and be hardcore against it. And business people who will say it will be an impossible encumbrance on their business. But they will have to answer the same question: What is the right thing to do?”

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