Borough Council approves plastic bag ban


Photo Credit: Wikipedia Commons

A single-use plastic bag like the ones the ban is serving to eliminate from local institutions.

by Caroline Goldenberg, Staff Writer

As of April 11th, 2019, the borough of Glen Rock has become the most recent New Jersey municipality to establish a ban on single-use plastic bags in stores and restaurants. The borough follows after municipalities such as Hoboken, Jersey City, Teaneck, and Point Pleasant have also adopted bans.

The Borough Council of Glen Rock approved the ban, which will officially begin on January 1st, 2020. The ban’s terms dictate that institutions within the borough must make reusable and recyclable bags available to customers (with a fee of at least $0.10) – however, small paper bags measuring 6 by 8 inches will not cost this extra fee.

The ban covers single-use bags that are used for groceries, produce, prescription medicine, newspaper, laundry, dry-cleaning, pet waste, and more. If businesses violate the new restriction, they will receive a written warning from the borough. If businesses continue to violate the ordinance, they will be charged fines of $50, $100, and $200, respectively.

In 2015, Longport Borough in Atlantic County, NJ, became the first New Jersey municipality to establish a plastic bag ban, and the 10-cent-fee was imposed to encourage more people to use reusable bags instead of recyclable bags, which are a better option than plastic ones, but not as environmentally-friendly as reusable bags.

The process to passing the ordinance was an extensive but successful one.

Since at least 2012, the Glen Rock Environmental Commission had been to reduce plastic consumption, Dr. Arati Kreibich, who serves on the Glen Rock Town Council as a Direct Liason, said.

Last year, in collaboration with the Green Team, there was a significant campaign to discuss more ways to reduce plastic use, Kreibich said. The year was even named ‘The Year of Plastic.’ We felt as if there was a lot of education about why plastics are bad, how they contribute to climate change, and to essentially killing off marine wildlife as well as affecting our environment in a negative way,” she said.

One of the initiatives that took place during the Year of Plastic was increased education about plastic bag recycling, Kreibich said. The Environmental Commission was informed of a challenge being held by the company Trex, which creates wood-alternative decking products. Trex was challenging communities to collect 500 lbs of plastic film – including objects such as plastic bags, saran wrap, etc. – to win a free bench for the community. Glen Rock participated in the six-month challenge and ended up gathering 550 lbs in just the first six weeks.

Kreibich recalls that the most significant feedback she received from participants was that they had so many single-use plastic items around their homes and that they believed plastic consumption was a true issue they were glad was being addressed, she said.

At around the same time, Kreibich took a tour of where the recycling facility used by the borough of Glen Rock and about 120 other towns, she said.

“The number one problem they have is plastic bags,” Kreibich said. “They get stuck in the machinery – even in the few hours we were there, they had to stop work multiple times because of plastic bags. So, from multiple different sources, we saw that these plastic bags are really a huge issue for our local environment.”

New Jersey State Legislature, that past June, had stated they would be looking into initiatives related to plastic bag bans, but they had not seen successes or progress with them, Kreibich said. But Kreibich noticed as she continued to attend sustainability summits that multiple other New Jersey municipalities had adopted plastic bag bans, she said.

“We really felt, from just having lived through this experience of a year of learning about plastic locally that the time had come to introduce the idea of consuming less,” Kreibich said.

Kreibich also recalls that the Glen Rock Green Team had concurrently conducted an informal survey of over one hundred local businesses on their opinions about a potential plastic bag ban, she said. Local businesses had previously been reluctant about adopting a ban for “completely understandable” reasons, such as customer use of plastic bags, Kreibich said.

Although some businesses maintained continued reluctance to the idea of the ban, the Green Team found that, from this survey, more businesses were mutual or positive about a ban, Kreibich said.

Greta Hilzen (11), who used to work at Kilroy’s Wonder Market of Glen Rock, found that many customers preferred plastic bags, but there were multiple who would also bring their own reusable bags, she said.

Hilzen supports the ban, she said, as she has seen that many citizens of the borough still depend on single-use plastic bags.

Several members of the Environmental Commission came together and completed extensive research on other bag ordinances that had been instituted around New Jersey, Kreibich said. The commission, using their research, formed an outline for the plastic bag ban ordinance.

The goal of the ban was to greatly reduce the utilization of single-use plastic bags, which are usually used for maybe fifteen minutes, and then stick around essentially forever, Kreibich said. The commission knew they would obviously not be able to eliminate the use of plastic materials entirely, but the ordinance would be an important step for the community.

The ban would direct civilians more towards the use of paper bags, which “seemed like the next best thing,” Kreibich said. However, the commission took a look at a plastic bag ban established in San Francisc, in which many civilians just began using paper bags, which, although more environmentally aware than plastic ones, still have their harmful effects, such as their greater use of energy.

The commission thus decided to instill a fee for paper bags included in the ban, as had other municipalities, in order for customers “to think twice about taking that paper bag, or remember a reusable bag,” Kreibich said. “The best bag is one you use over and over again.”

Photo Credit: Wikipedia Commons
A kind of reusable bag that the ban encourages shoppers to use.

As part of the ordinance, businesses must charge a minimum of ten cents for a paper bag. Businesses are allowed to charge fees greater than ten cents in order to make up for the greater costs of paper bags.

The ordinance was proposed to Kreibich, who added some modifications, then brought it to the council, she said. The ordinance was then brought up in several other meetings, and the commission emailed several businesses in town to ask their opinions, to which there were many positive responses. Kreibich also informed the Chamber of Commerce of the potential ordinance, she said.

On Wednesday, April 11th, the ordinance was passed unanimously to take effect beginning January 1st, 2020.

The feedback to the ordinance’s passing in the borough has been largely positive, Kreibich said. She has received around eighty emails from Glen Rock citizens excited to shop in town with the ordinance in place and supportive of the environmentally aware initiative, she said.

Kreibich also notes that there was a significant Glen Rock student population that provided  forceful support for the ordinance, coming out to meetings, promoting the ordinance’s passing, and making strong cases for the passing of the ban, she said. Many Green Team interns voiced their support and attended meetings.

“I think in terms of everyday interactions – look, who hasn’t forgotten their reusable bag a time or two? But I think very quickly, [plastic consumption] has become just a way of life, so there might be a period of time when we are all adjusting to it, but I think we will all adjust more quickly than we think because it was only about 40 years ago that plastic bags were introduced,” Kreibich said.

Kreibich also hopes civilians take the time to “think about why we’re doing this,” not only just with plastic bag consumption, but with other aspects of daily life that affect the environment, she said.

“I think there is an obligation on leaders of all different levels of government. Frankly, the time to do this was twenty, forty, fifty years ago. But the next best time is now,” Kreibich said.