Stafford’s Plastic Bag Ban Met With Mixed Reviews from Public

By DAVID BIGGY | Dec 12, 2018
Photo by: David Biggy About a week ahead of time, ShopRite on Route 72 started warning its customers about the single-use plastic bag ban slated to begin in stores Dec. 6.

Less than a quarter-mile north of Wawa on Route 9 in Stafford Township, some of the evidence of why the town council sought to ban the provision of single-use plastic bags by businesses was stuck in shrubs and trees of various kinds. Many were fully intact, waving in the breeze on Sunday afternoon, while others were mere remnants of what once was intact, shredded from months of wear.

Several dozen plastic bags, including those from Wawa, ShopRite, The Home Depot and Dick’s Sporting Goods, along with dozens more pieces of trashy items – drink cups, plastic bottles, styrofoam, even a few empty, heavy plastic bags which once contained topsoil and ice melt – littered the county’s open space area along the side of the road. And that was just a small stretch of land directly across from Southern Regional High School.

“It’s ridiculous and sad,” said Stafford Mayor John Spodofora, who led the town administration’s effort to ban plastic bags early this year. “And the fact is, we really believe we’re taking a step in the right direction on helping to reduce the plastic pollution. It’s out of control.”

Unfortunately, some local shoppers didn’t seem willing to agree with that assessment on Dec. 7, once Ordinance 2018-06 cleared its four-month period to allow all local businesses to get on board by providing their customers with alternatives to single-use plastic bags.

“It’s crazy. I don’t like it at all,” said Joann Miller, who was shopping with her husband, Joe, at Walmart on Route 72 when they found out the store no longer provided plastic bags but instead was charging 50 cents for a fabric reusable one. “Is this to help the environment? I don’t think it’s a good idea. We just moved here from Staten Island, and we’re not used to this. We’re not interested in paying for reusable bags. We use plastic bags for a lot of things.”

The Millers were far less angry about the bag ban than others at Walmart last Friday. One man, carrying two items and visibly angry, used several expletives to describe his thoughts on the switch, while others shook their heads in dismay as they exited the store, saying amongst themselves how “stupid,” “ridiculous” and “dumb” it was that the store no longer had plastic bags to offer.

“I didn’t know about it, so I found out the hard way when I showed up today,” said Barnegat resident Dora Ewan. “It’s kind of crappy because it’s Christmastime. It won’t stop me from shopping here, but I’m not going to pay for bags. At least at Costco and BJ’s, they have boxes you can use to carry items.”

Still, despite a seemingly larger proportion of Walmart customers miffed by the change, some were appreciative of it.

“Those plastic bags are a pain to recycle and they’re all over the place, so I think it’s great,” said Dottie Scalzo, a Whiting resident who had stopped at Walmart for some shopping with her husband after having lunch in Tuckerton. “We shop in Aldi and BJ’s a lot, so we’re used to not using plastic bags. We stopped here today and just found out Walmart doesn’t have bags, and we’re OK with it.”

Matt Mendez, who had worked on Long Beach Island – where Long Beach Township and Harvey Cedars already had similar bans in place this past summer – and recently took a job at the Route 9 Wawa, left Walmart with multiple of its branded, blue fabric bags full of items.

“I don’t mind it. I think it’s a good idea,” said the Ocean Acres 19-year-old. “It’s a small step toward a bigger cause. I get it. Plastic bags are a problem. So if I have to pay a couple dollars for four bags, I see it as pocket change that goes toward trying to make a difference.”

Ewan hit on something many who took to social media to complain about – the fact that some stores are charging their customers for bags. The town’s ordinance doesn’t prohibit businesses from charging for reusable or paper bags.

At the Route 9 Wawa, the same sentiment seemed evident. Shortly after Southern students were dismissed from school on Friday, the popular convenience store was abuzz with activity, much of it tinged with dismay over the need to pay $1.29 for a branded, black fabric reusable bag or go without a bag.

“I had no idea about it,” said Southern sophomore Dylan Lockwood. “The ban makes sense, but I don’t think we should have to pay for a bag.”

Lockwood’s friend and classmate, Jack Plesniarski, said he had heard bits and pieces about the upcoming ban through others at school during the previous few days.

“I think Wawa should have paper bags of some kind,” he said. “Making people pay for bags doesn’t seem right.”

Lockwood’s mother, Chris, was understanding of the fact many people don’t want to spend money on reusable bags, but also reiterated the need to reduce plastic waste.

“I get it. A lot of people are on budgets and paying for bags would be an issue,” she said. “But I don’t like plastic bags. I have reusable bags in the car right now. And, yes, sometimes I forget them. Maybe now, because the ban is really here, I’ll start remembering to bring them all the time. At times, we don’t adapt until we’re forced to. But I’m all for the ban. It’s the right thing to do to help the environment.”

Another big complaint, both on social media and among those who visited various stores in Stafford over the weekend, was that many were simply caught off guard.

“We’ve mentioned this at every one of our town meetings during the past few months, and letters were delivered to all businesses in town telling them to be prepared for this,” Spodofora said. “It’s been part of the discussion for months. I don’t know what else we could have done on our end to make people aware. It’s been in the paper. It’s been talked about. Why more people didn’t know, I’m not sure. It seems the businesses dropped the ball on that one.”

One Walmart associate said several customers were so enraged by the news that the store no longer had plastic bags that they left their items on the register and walked out, had harsh words for store associates, and one even “threw a few items at one of the cashiers before they left.”

“It was crazy here today,” the associate said. “So many people didn’t know about it. All we could do was try to explain the best we could, but a lot of people didn’t like it.”

In the months leading up to December, many stores in town hadn’t posted signage or alerts at registers bringing attention to the ban.

At ShopRite, large yellow signs with the catch phrase “Plan for the Ban” didn’t start appearing on the store’s windows until a short time before the ban was scheduled to take effect. On Friday, a look inside the entrance to the store revealed one of those signs encased in a metal frame – seven customers walked by it, five of whom were looking at their cell phones as they passed, oblivious to the sign’s presence.

At Walmart, store management told The SandPaper just days before that it had “no information” regarding what the store was doing once the ban went into effect. Customers apparently didn’t have any clue, either. The Route 9 Wawa provided makeshift signs on two of its doors starting Dec. 1. Still, many customers didn’t know, according to one Wawa associate.

“That was part of the reason we gave the businesses four months to prepare, so they could alert customers to it,” Spodofora said. “If most of their customers didn’t know about the ban, that’s on them. They needed to do more to get the word out, especially for those outside of our town who shop at those stores. It’s a shame so many didn’t know.”

Stafford resident and Stafford Township Board of Education member Walter Jauch, who deals with the public on a regular basis in his line of work, said many businesses in town didn’t do their customers any favors.

“Being in many of our stores this weekend, I thought many failed to prepare,” he said. “In Home Depot, they had the equivalent of paper lunch bags for your items. The ban was the right move for our environment, but retailers need to address the customers’ needs.”

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