NEWARK, NJ - Councilman At-Large Luis Quintana held up a thick, blue plastic carry-out bag he was given from a cashier after making a purchase at an Ironbound pharmacy.

“This is not something I’m going to throw away,” said Quintana, showing that he was now using the bag to store clothes he intended to get dry cleaned. “I’m going to reuse them.”

Quintana reached into his car trunk and found a white plastic bag from a different store to show the difference between the blue one. The white bag was a bit transparent, and his hand could be seen through it. The blue one was more opaque.

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Under a recently introduced city ordinance, businesses would be allowed to give customers a bag like the blue one. The city would fine businesses anywhere from $250 to $1,000 each day bags like the white one are offered to customers.

That’s because the ordinance allows for reusable bags that are strictly defined as ones with "at least 2.25 mils in thickness.” Plastic bags that essentially have the same thickness of a garbage bag would be deemed "reusable" under the city's definition.  

Clean Water Action New Jersey State Director Amy Goldsmith says Newark's ordinance doesn't go far enough. All plastic bags - regardless of thickness - never disintegrate, she said.

“Businesses would probably just go to that thickness bag, and they would basically be just single-use bags for the most part,” Goldsmith said. “I mean how many people go to a clothing store and they give sort of a thicker, higher-end plastic bag? How many people actually use that bag over and over again for different purposes?”

Other cities like Hoboken have already passed ordinances similar to Newark's with the same thickness provision. Businesses there were still bagging items in plastic for customers even after the “ban” was put into place, The Record reported.

Newark Corporation Counsel Kenyatta Stewart said allowing for thicker plastic bags was not intentional. The ordinance is still a work in progress and there may be a move to truly ban all plastic bags after further discussions.

“What is intentional is starting a conversation around the ban of single-use plastic bags,” Stewart said in an email.

City councilmembers on Tuesday supported and advanced the ordinance, but wanted it to extend to styrofoam and straws too. Quintana told TAPinto Newark on Friday there should be more community input before passing a new policy on plastic bags, and that perhaps a limitation would be better than an outright ban.

North Ward Councilman Anibal Ramos said on Friday the ordinance was presented to the council as a full-on ban. He understood the importance of the measure, but also realized there would be some challenges to it.

“It’s still early in the process so we still have a chance to evaluate it,” Ramos said.

City code enforcement officers would uphold the new ordinance if it were to pass. It was not immediately clear what methods the code officers would use to measure bag thickness.

“While the city is deciding whether or not to ban plastic bags completely, discussion around enforcement is also taking place,” said Stewart, the corporation counsel. “By the time the final passage is made, by the council, a plan of enforcement will be in place.”

Goldsmith, of Clean Water Action, said it would be better to implement a plastic bag ban through state legislation rather than local ordinances to avoid confusion among businesses. State lawmakers have a pending bill that would ban plastic bags, straws and styrofoam.

“We want all the towns and cities that are passing ordinances now to pass the best possible ordinance and the most comprehensive one because that’s the one that’s on track to move ahead on the state level," she said. 

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