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SUPPORT FOR BAG BAN GOES LIMP, FAST

Dupont_leeCouncilman Mike DuPont’s initiative got enough votes for introduction, including one from Councilwoman Sharon Lee, though she said she disagreed with its punitive thrust and could not support adoption.

A proposed ordinance that might have put Red Bank in a national spotlight by banning commonly-used plastic grocery bags got treated like a bag plastered to the grill of speeding truck last night.

A parade of speakers — including several from the food and packaging industries — rose to denounce it as wrongheaded in terms of economics, the environment and public policy. No one had much to say in favor of it except for its sponsor, and by the end of the debate, even he was saying that if nothing else, the bill had spurred discussion of the issue.

The ordinance, which would bar stores from dispensing plastic carry bags after July 1, 2009, was the brainchild of Councilman Mike DuPont, who first introduced it late last year and has been refining it based on input from various constituencies since then, he has said.

Over the intervening months, DuPont said he had consulted with the borough’s largest buyer and dispenser of bags, the Food Circus SuperFoodtown on Broad Street, and that the store was in general agreement with law’s aims and workability.

But the first speaker to denounce the ordinance was Foodtown’s marketing director, Phil Scaduto. He argued that the law would remove from circulation a lightweight product that is both reusable and recyclable.

In turn, rather than fostering widespread use of heavy duty reusable bags, which he said many consumers reject, the law would spur demand for paper, which is far more expensive and because of its bulk and weight, far more expensive to store and transport.

“I find this bill to be very restraining to our business, not only from a business perspective but also from an environmental perspective,” Scaduto said. “By eliminating a recyclable product, the borough may be taking a step backward in an effort to become greener.”

Moreover, he said, the law would saddle Foodtown with costs in a competitive business that works on extremely thin profit margins. “I’m not a CoCo Pari,” he said.

He was followed at the microphone by Rocco D’Antonio of Penn Jersey Paper Products, a bag supplier and recycler. He said that paper takes up 12 times the volume of plastic and costs three to four times as much — up to 8 cents per bag. By contrast, he said, manufacturers of everything from patio decking to mops are seeing the economic necessity of buying recycled plastic, and consumers are beginning to get on board with growing bag-recycling efforts.

Foodtown, said Scaduto, gives shoppers three cents off for every bag they refill with groceries.

“By banning plastic bags here, you’re not eliminating plastic bags here,” D’Antonio said. “What you’re eliminating is recycling in Red Bank.”

A third speaker, representing the chemical industry, sought to debunk what he said were misunderstandings about plastic bags. One, he said, is the belief that bags are made from petroleum. While that was once true, the majority of them are no made from natural gas, he said.

Though Councilwoman Kathleen Horgan said she would like to hear from the borough Environmental Commission, no members of which were present last night, it was clear by the end of the session that the so-called DuPont law was facing strong opposition on the council.

Grace Cangemi continued to press for educating the public on the need to recycle plastic bags, and fellow Republican Jim Giannell said he didn’t know anybody who was in favor of the law’s adoption. He asked Scaduto to consider polling its customers on their preferences.

Even Councilwoman Sharon Lee, who voted to introduce the ordinance, said she opposed its punitive approach, and wanted to see fresh ideas on how to combat the blight of bags littering streets and waterways.

“I don’t want to fine you,” she told the business representatives. “I want you and your bag guy to come in and say you’ve got a better idea.”

Near the end of a lengthy debate, DuPont said the ordinance “may need tweaking, it may need revisions. But the worst that could happen here is that it might spur discussion.”

Today, DuPont told redbankgreen that last night’s opponents had made “arguments of fear rather than arguments of fact.” He said he would continue to push for passage.

A public hearing and vote on the law are scheduled for Sept. 22 at 7:30p.

Here’s the proposed ordinance: Download plastic_bag_ban.pdf

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