By JOHN T. WARD
With a recycling problem taking hold across America, Little Silver appears set to become the first town on the Greater Red Bank Green to ban plastic straws and store bags.
An ordinance introduced last week has the reluctant support of local retailers, borough officials say.
“We just go with what the town wants,” Carvel owner Jessica Newman told redbankgreen last week. Hers would be the first store in the Carvel chain to revert to paper cups and straws — the material used before the widespread adoption of plastic, she notes.
Other retailers, including the Acme supermarket, the CVS drugstore and the mom-and-pops in town have also expressed support, said Mayor Bob Neff.
Acme spokeswoman Dana Ward told redbankgreen via email Friday that while the chain would prefer that the state, rather than individual towns, issue bans “to keep a level playing field among competitors,” the chain is working closely with Little Silver officials and “will comply with any ordinance passed.”
The store has also committed to continuing a program under which it accepts and recycles clean plastic bags, Neff said. The program that had been in doubt as the ordinance was being developed.
The law would ban retailers from issuing single-use plastic bags, plastic straws and polystyrene foam containers. It exempts garment bags used by dry cleaners and no-handle “produce” bags used to segregate meats and vegetables from other items to prevent damage or contamination.
If adopted by the council as expected March 25, the law would take effect October 1. The council would have the discretion to extend the start date by 180 days for individual businesses that can’t immediately comply despite “good faith efforts.”
Violations carry fines of up to $500 for the first offense and $2,500 per day for a third or subsequent offense.
Since last summer, municipalities across Monmouth County towns have implemented bans on the use plastic bags to contain household recyclables. The change was prompted by China’s decision to stop importing plastics, including water bottles and plastic straws, starting January 1 of this year, because too much of it was contaminated with food waste or non-plastic material.
As a result of China’s withdrawal from the market, recycling efforts are “collapsing” across America, with more plastics being channeled back into household waste streams, the New York Times reported Saturday.
The aim of the Little Silver law is to create an incentive for the use of reusable containers to help protect the environment, wildlife and public health, the ordinance says.
The borough would join Monmouth Beach and about two dozen other New Jersey towns imposing limits on bags and straws. Environmental Commission Chairwoman Bonnie Akey joked that the move makes the town “almost progressive.”
“We’re the only one on the peninsula” between the Navesink and Shrewsbury rivers to take a ban so far, she said, crediting a grassroots effort led by Jennifer Borenius of the We are Sure single-use reduction effort for driving the move.
Though some perceived him as opposed to the ban, Councilman AJ McNally said he took a cautious approach to examining the proposal. He pushed early on to ensure that all 60 or so retailers in town knew about it and had a chance to weigh in.
“I felt it was important that the businesses in town were notified, because it’s an ask on them,” he said.
McNally said he spoke to merchants, “and really, the overwhelming thing I heard was, ‘we’re not against the ban,'” though they expressed concerns about costs, and the competitive disadvantage they might face against similar businesses in nearby towns without bans.
He also explored the world of trash and recycling, talking to recycling officials in Monmouth and Ocean counties and taking a tour of the Monmouth County Reclamation Center. There, he saw how problematic and costly handling plastics has become.
His conclusion: “When you come back to less plastic in the environment, I’m for it,” he said.
Still, said Akey, while no business owners were openly hostile to the ban, their response was “not exactly exuberant,” Akey acknowledges. Little Silver Family Pharmacy co-owner Matthew Parisi was one who expressed ambivalence about the law.
“I don’t think this is an affected area” when it comes to plastics pollution, he said. “I don’t see plastic bags flying around Little Silver.”
Then there’s the cost. Parisi said some quick research suggested he’d have to pay about $4,000 more per year for paper bags. “I’m going to either have to eat it or build into my prices,” he said.
Other concerns: while customers may bring their own reusable bags to the supermarket, they’re not yet in the habit of bringing them to smaller stores. As a result, they might not make as many spontaneous purchases, Parisi said.
Carvel owner Newman noted the irony of reverting to paper products.
“We’ve gone from paper to styrofoam to plastic, and now we’re backtracking,” said Newman, who’s been serving Carvel ice cream products in town since she was a little girl. “We’ve seen it all.”
The vote to introduce the ordinance was unanimous at the council meeting last Monday night. McNally said he voted in favor because “everyone in town has been notified. Residents had an opportunity to come and speak,” and while there was some resistance, the majority appeared to back the ban, he said.
Neff, though, agrees with others in town who believe a town-by-town approach imposes a “compliance hardship” on stores versus their competitors in neighboring towns that haven’t made the move.
“It is certainly a noble cause,” Neff said in a recent live chat on the town’s Facebook page, but he’d prefer a statewide or even federal ban.
“I would love to see that happen,” he said. “Ban those things.”