Two makeshift signs on the doors of the Wawa on Route 9 in Stafford Township bore a warning to customers. The era of no single-use plastic bags has arrived.
“Due to the ban on plastic bags now in place in Stafford Township, we no longer will be carrying single-use plastic bags,” the sign read Monday afternoon. “We will soon have multi-use bags available for purchase. Sorry for the inconvenience.”
A look inside the store revealed that several checkouts had some single-use plastic bags left, but by the end of this week – Thursday, Dec. 6, to be precise – consumers frequenting township retailers should expect to see no more single-use bags available at checkouts across town.
“People really need to start bringing reusable bags with them,” said Stafford Mayor John Spodofora. “We gave all the businesses in town enough time to get rid of their stocks of single-use bags, and now it’s time to move forward on this. It’s a positive, proactive step we’re taking so that we can start making a difference and doing our part to help the environment both locally and globally.”
On July 17, the Stafford Township Council unanimously approved Ordinance 2018-06, which completely bans the provision of single-use plastic bags by businesses within town borders. Following its 20-day hold period before becoming enforceable by law, the ordinance officially went on the books Aug. 7.
From that point, businesses had 120 days to exhaust their inventories of plastic bags. Starting Thursday, Dec. 6, no retailer in town can offer single-use plastic bags for toting items from their stores or face fines of up to $500 for every day a retailer is not in compliance.
To clarify, the ban relates only to certain types of plastic bags: “carry-out” and single-use bags “for the purpose of transporting products or goods out of the business or store.” Once Dec. 6 arrives, retailers offering bags to consumers can provide only paper or reusable bags. Alternatively, consumers may bring any type of bag with them to carry their items, even single-use plastic ones they have acquired elsewhere.
The ban does not include plastic bags for produce, meat, fish or poultry, frozen foods, fresh flowers and deli items; bags for medical purposes; bags used by pet stores to sell and transport live fish; dry cleaner or door-hanger garment bags; plastic bags sold in packages, such as garbage can or litter box liners; or bags used to deliver food items to customers on food assistance programs. Bags to deliver newspapers also are exempt.
“As the week progresses, I expect to see most businesses finish off their stocks of plastic bags,” Spodofora said. “I’m expecting to see a few holdouts, because maybe they still have to deplete their stocks of bags, but we’ll see what happens once the weekend passes. If Monday comes and we find out about a business not in compliance, we’ll start issuing warnings.”
If any business in town is out of compliance with the legal code, enforcement officers first will issue warnings, which allow for a specified number of days for the business to become compliant or face fines thereafter, Spodofora said. Enforcement officers can start issuing such warnings at any time once the 120 days has passed, but the mayor said the town typically doesn’t check for violations unless a complaint is reported.
However, it doesn’t appear township personnel will have much to be concerned about, as most of the large retailers either already have made the changes necessary to be in compliance or are implementing plans to do so this week.
At Stafford Park, PetSmart stopped using single-use bags on Dec. 1 and began offering its shoppers store-branded canvas bags for $1.99 each. The store isn’t offering paper bags, according to a store associate at the checkout registers on Monday. The associate also said “at least 10 people have complained.”
Elsewhere within Stafford Park, Dick’s Sporting Goods and Best Buy were scheduled to make the switch to paper bags on Dec. 5, while Target had set the same date as the last one consumers will see single-use plastic bags there, according to store associates.
Farther to the east on Route 72, Michaels and Staples already had made the switch to paper bags by Dec. 1 – a Staples associated said that store stopped using single-use plastic bags several weeks ago – while Walmart and Kohl’s associates had no information as to when those stores were making changes away from single-use bags.
As for ShopRite and Acme, their shoppers can expect something the town council had hoped it wouldn’t see – fees for bags. While each store already had been offering reusable canvas bags for purchase, the switch away from single-use bags will come with an additional price.
At ShopRite, single-use plastic bags no longer will be provided starting Dec. 6, as the store changes toward providing a thicker, reusable type of plastic bag – a 22-pound-capacity bag which has a usage life of up to 125 uses – along with the paper bags it has been providing for decades. Those bags will be free to customers until Dec. 16, before a 10-cent fee for both types of bag goes into effect, according to a store manager. Of course, reusable canvas bags, which already had been on sale for years, still will be available for purchase as well.
Acme also is making a similar maneuver – offering a thicker, reusable type of plastic bag good for more than 75 uses, and paper bags – except the store was slated to begin charging 10 cents per bag on Dec. 6, an associate said.
According to Ordinance 2018-06, ShopRite and Acme both may be in compliance with the new law despite offering some type of plastic bag. The ordinance language dubs a “reusable bag” as such: “a bag that is designed and manufactured to withstand repeated uses over a period of time, is machine washable or made from a material that can be cleaned and disinfected regularly, has a minimum of 75 uses, and is capable of carrying a minimum of 18 pounds.” The ordinance doesn’t prohibit retailers from charging for the bags it provides.
Township residents interested in bypassing the possibility of paying for reusable bags have the option to pick up some still being issued by the town, while supplies last. Spodofora said AtlantiCare recently donated reusable canvas bags and the town has been giving them away to residents who wanted them. He said it’s best to contact the recreation department at 609-978-1000, extension 8557, to find out if bags are still available.
Despite the town’s efforts to help clean up the environment, Spodofora said he expects to receive some complaints during the coming weeks. He had already received one from a perturbed Wawa customer over the weekend.
“I stopped at Wawa on Route 9 on my way to work this morning,” said the “annoyed citizen” in an email dated Dec. 1. “I purchased a number of items for breakfast and lunch along with coffee today. I was really annoyed when I checked out and found there were NO bags! I was told this was because of the township. I managed to get a small bag when I picked up my sandwich, but it was not big enough to hold everything! There is no way I could manage all I bought without a bag. If this is the case, I will have to rethink stopping here.”