Proposed Single-Use Plastic Ban Readied, But Its Fate Uncertain

A proposed township ban on most single-use plastics is ready after months of work, but the question of whether the Township Council will entertain it remains open.

The township’s Environmental Commission spent hours over the last six months agonizing over what would be included in the proposed ordinance, finally settling on most single-use bags, polystyrene foam products and plastic straws.

While Mayor Phil Kramer has in the past voiced support for such a ban, he recently expressed concern over whether this is the time for the Council to consider it.

“I can only speak for myself, in the time of COVID I have to think long and hard about this,” Kramer said on August 6. “There are implications now that weren’t immediately obvious before.”

The proposed ordinance would prohibit stores – including grocery stores, liquor stores, pharmacies and convenience stores, among others – from giving customers single-use plastic carryout bags, with some exceptions.

Excepted from the definition of “carryout bag” are bags used to wrap flowers, bags used to wrap uncooked meat, poultry and fish, and bags used to carry loose items such as fruit, vegetables, baked goods and small hardware items, among others.

Grocery stores would be allowed to sell for a minimum of 10 cents paper carryout bags for up to one year after the ordinance takes effect. There is no prohibition on other types of stores to provide paper carryout bags.

The ordinance would also prohibit food service businesses from providing food in polystyrene foam products, with the exception of trays used for raw meat and fish, and cups smaller than two ounces, if they’re used for hot liquids or need lids.

The proposed ordinance prohibits food service businesses from serving customers plastic food service products, unless the customer requests it.

Food service businesses can give customers single-use bending straws upon request, and straw dispensers must dispense only non-plastic straws.

The proposed ordinance allows stores to sell pre-packaged plastic straws, and beverage containers that come with their own plastic straws.

All of the bans would be in effect six months after the ordinance is passed.

Enforcement of the ban would be handled by the Somerset County Health Department. First violations would be subject to a $100 fine, second violations a $200 fine and third and subsequent violations a $500 fine.

Township Councilman Ted Chase (D-Ward 1), the Council liaison to the Commission, said he suspected that most enforcement would occur in the township’s supermarkets.

He said the provisions concerning plastic bags, polystyrene foam and plastic straws come from model ordinances provided by the Association of New Jersey Environmental Commissions.

Kramer said he was not expecting a full ordinance from the Commission.

“I personally would have preferred the Environmental Commission to have sent us bullet points of what they wanted rather than write an entire ordinance,” he said. “I like the form of ordinances that other towns have adopted. We could, if we wanted to pass this, fit some of the concerns of the Environmental Commission, the ones we agree with, into that.”

Kramer said some of his reluctance to go forward with the ordinance now revolves around teh form Council meetings take now.

“I am reluctant, though I’m not saying I’d never do it, but I am reluctant to pass a major ordinance at a time when we have virtual meetings,” he said. “I’m not saying I won’t for something that is immediate and vital, and if virtual meetings go on forever, we may have to get on with this. We don’t know what the future brings.”

“I have a lot of reservations about this, though I think the issue is still a valid issue,” Kramer said. “The question becomes how do you wrestle with it in the days of COVID?”

“Even if I agree with all of it, do I really want to throw another stressor on the public right now?” he said.

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