The bag ban is back on the table in Stafford Township, with a new urgency to beat the state to the punch. A modified version of Stafford Township’s plastic bag ban ordinance (first introduced in February) was reintroduced at the June 27 council meeting. The idea was to get the ordinance on its way to adoption before the state government would enact Gov. Phil Murphy’s proposed legislation, Assembly Bill A-3267, to put a 5-cent fee on all disposable shopping bags, plastic and paper. If enacted first, the state law would supersede the municipal law.
In the days since that meeting, however, Murphy eliminated language that would have shifted $23 million to be raised by the fees on bags to the general budget instead of lead programs, as originally intended. But Murphy has not yet decided whether or not to sign the bill.
Ordinance 2018-06, regulating and limiting the use of single-use plastic shopping bags, cites a severe negative impact on the local and global environment, on the planet’s ecosystem and on the food chain as a whole, as a result of greenhouse gas emissions, land- and ocean-based pollution, and hazards to wildlife and to humans’ water sources.
The ban targets so-called T-shirt bags, most commonly distributed at grocery, convenience and other retail stores. Exceptions to the ban include plastic bags used for medical purposes; for produce, meat/fish/poultry, frozen foods, flowers, deli, etc.; for live fish from pet stores; for dry cleaning; for lining trash cans and disposing of pet waste; for meals in food assistance programs; and for newspapers. Retailers have four months from the date of enactment to use existing supplies of bags.
According to Mayor John Spodofora, the current modified version of the town’s proposed ordinance is satisfactory to all the business owners he has consulted.
Stafford leaders felt the state’s proposed measure was shortsighted and ineffective, as it did not address any of the real problems posed by the bags. Plastic bags that get discarded into the recycling stream only gum up the recycling sorting machines and drive up labor costs; littering and other environmental issues are not solved merely by charging taxpayers.
That the law would also apply to paper bags is “dumbfounding to me,” Spodofora said.
Spodofora called it “totally ridiculous” and “one of the dumbest things I’ve ever seen come out of Trenton.”
The language of the bill was ambiguous, according to Spodofora. Worst of all, the cost would be passed along to the consumer – even those already in the habit of using their own bags.
Local environmental activist Barbara Reynolds thanked the council for its efforts to combat plastic.
She reported about 75 people attended the recent screening of the documentary “A Plastic Ocean” in Ocean Acres, and a subsequent screening in Beach Haven got about the same turnout; between now and October, more will follow at the High Point Firehouse in Harvey Cedars, the Long Beach Island Foundation of the Arts and Sciences, Farias Surf and Sport and the Ship Bottom Firehouse.
The Surfrider and Sierra Club organizations shared the town’s dissatisfaction with Murphy’s proposed bill, Reynolds said. Surfrider’s John Webber has suggested plastic be banned and paper bags be made available at 5 cents per bag, which the store gets to keep.
Reynolds also shared her personal mission to have a “Plastic-Free July,” a campaign out of Australia (check the Facebook page) that challenges people to eliminate plastic from their lives for one month – no trash bags, no cosmetics bottles, switch to a bamboo toothbrush, shop at stores that sell items in bulk with no packaging. Save the plastic trash that does get generated and see how much accumulates in one month. The point of the exercise is to take a close look at just how pervasive plastics are in everyday life and to consider the impact, extrapolated out over many years among an entire population.
“I don’t expect to live like that 12 months out of the year, but I am going to give it my best, and I’m going to learn what I can from the experience,” she said.
As Reynolds reminded the room, when we throw plastic things away, there is no “away.” Every plastic thing that has ever been made still exists.
— Victoria Ford