PARAMUS, NJ - Paramus could become the latest community to ban single-use plastic bags, joining a growing movement across the country aimed at reducing litter.
At its May 21 meeting, the borough council will consider introducing an ordinance to not only prohibit businesses from distributing plastic bags at checkout, but also to ban polystyrene food containers, according to Mayor Richard LaBarbiera.
If the ordinance passes on second reading, it would go into effect Jan. 1, 2020 and prohibit businesses from distributing carryout plastic bags, as well as packaging food in Styrofoam.
Under the proposed ordinance, retailers would be required to provide recyclable paper bags at no charge to customers. The ban would not apply to plastic bags used to wrap produce, meat, fish or frozen food, or packaging used for items such as newspapers or dry cleaning, LaBarbierasaid.
Enforcement would be the responsibility of the borough’s health department and its quality of life officers, however penalty amounts for non-compliance have not yet been determined, the mayor said.
According to LaBarbiera, officials spent more than a year discussing the measure, as well as gathering input from the borough’s environmental commission and residents.
“After discussion, we landed in a good spot,” said LaBarbiera, adding that the process was “healthy and bipartisan.”
“The council became more and more educated, and saw there’s a big problem out there,” the mayor said.
Environmental advocates say plastic bags are one the biggest sources of litter and can harm wildlife, as well as water quality. However, opponents to such measures believe the regulation could drive up costs for local businesses, which would eventually trickle down to consumers.
In the U.S., California and New York are the only ones with a plastic ban in place, though several states, such as Connecticut and Washington, are considering laws. Other states have focused more on implementing recycling programs or initiating fees to discourage the use of plastic bags altogether.
While there is legislation pending at the state level, there’s no known time frame for when it could advance, which has prompted several communities to implement measures aimed at reducing and eliminating carryout bags.
More than a dozen towns, including Glen Rock, Maplewood, Hoboken and Jersey City, have either banned plastic bags or placed fees on them, as well as on other items, such as plastic straws, plastic utensils and Styrofoam food containers.
LaBarbiera pointed out that many grocery chains, such as Trader Joe’s, are already committed to reducing waste, and several national restaurant chains have started using cardboard containers instead of Styrofoam.
“I don’t think it will be a heavy lift once it goes into effect. We’ve spoken to other communities who have done it and they’ve said within a week life goes on,” he said.
“A lot of people originally criticized it as a money grab, but we’re not placing a fee, tax or anything of a sort on it,” he said.
As one of the largest shopping destinations in the country, LaBarbiera said he hopes Paramus sets an example for other municipalities once they see it working in the borough.
“I think in Paramus, we pride ourselves on being on the tip of the sphere and having progressive ideas,” he said.
Over the next several months, the borough in conjunction with the environmental commission will launch a campaign to raise awareness, educate and field questions in order to ensure “a smooth transition” in 2020, he said. The borough also plans to distribute reusable tote bags at upcoming town events, he added.
As for plastic straws, LaBarbiera said he anticipates future discussing on banning those.