BELMAR, NJ — Looking to keep plastic bags off its beaches and out of its waterways, Belmar is starting with the business community to help make that happen.

The borough council approved an ordinance on May 15 that gives retail establishments until next spring to find a more environmental-friendly way to bag purchases before a ban on single-use plastic bags takes effect.

The borough is the latest municipality in New Jersey to prohibit the bags as a way to help reduce the amount of plastic debris that enters the ecosystem.

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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. In fact, plastic is the most common type of trash littering Belmar beaches.

While there were no comments made by businesses owners or residents during the public hearing held prior to the measure’s adoption, the Belmar Business Partnership has thrown its support behind the ban.

“The Belmar Business Partnership believes plastic pollution is a serious environmental threat to coastal birds, sea life and marine wildlife, and we support efforts by town officials, residents and business owners to keep trash off our beaches and out of our waterways,” said BBP board member Christine Cardellino.

A number of Belmar businesses already have adopted green initiatives on their own, such as using paper straws, biodegradable food takeout containers, recyclable cups and paper bags instead of plastic, she said.

Under the measure, Belmar businesses, including convenience stores, pharmacies, retail shops and food service establishments, have until May 1, 2019 to make the switch-over to another type of bag — preferably reusable ones 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.

For the past year, Councilman Thomas Brennan has been the driving force behind the effort, particularly in his role as council liaison to the Belmar Environmental Commission. Last summer, 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.

The bags were so widely welcomed by the business community that the borough quickly ran out of them and is currently working with the BBP to replenish its supply.

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