BELMAR, NJ — Purchases made at Belmar businesses will no longer be placed in those all-too-familiar flimsy plastic bags.

Belmar’s ban on single-use plastic bags at commercial establishments took effect on May 1 — as a way to help reduce the amount of plastic debris that enters the ecosystem. In fact, plastic is the most common type of trash littering Belmar beaches.

And in a shore community like Belmar, the potential for plastic bags winding up in the ocean, river and lakes that surround it grows dramatically when the population swells to some 50,000 on any given summer weekend.

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Under the new law, the ban applies to businesses that include convenience stores, pharmacies, retail shops and food service establishments, which are being encouraged to use reusable bags that have a minimum life span of 75 uses.

Plastic garment bags and produce or food bags for meat or similar products are exempt. Also, establishments that sell fishing bait are still permitted to use single-use plastic bags.

Businesses found in violation of the ordinance could face up a $2,500 fine for each occurrence, up to $10,000, according to the borough’s municipal code.

Since the borough council passed the measure last spring, giving businesses a year to find a more eco-friendly way to bag purchases, many retailers have already made the switch — many opting for paper bags in all shapes and sizes.

For the past two years, Council President Thomas Brennan has been the driving force behind the effort, particularly in his former role as council liaison to the Belmar Environmental Commission. In 2017, the commission launched a public awareness campaign to help reduce plastic bag usage among businesses by offering its own reusable tote with the slogan, “I’m the solution to plastic pollution,” placed in the shape of a black and green turtle — the winning logo in a contest for local students to design the bags.

While a new limited supply of totes will be made available to retailers — made possible by the commission and Belmar Business Partnership — residents can pick up one free of charge at the Belmar Municipal Building, 601 Main Street, while they are available.

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