CHATHAM, NJ - As studies and scientific reports have increasingly become more foreboding for the future of the environment from the current state of pollution, local government has been in the forefront in pioneering change for uses of plastic products such as grocery bags and straws.

On Monday, former council member Leonard Resto presented a plan on behalf of the Chatham Borough Environmental Commission to the Borough of Chatham Council which would ban single-use plastic bags from businesses and organizations across Chatham.

This initiative was presented by Resto along with Claire Whitcomb, the chair of the Madison Environmental Commission. 

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In a survey of Chatham residents, which can be found here, 90.41 percent of those who answered the survey said they were concerned about the impact of plastic waste 

The recommendation for banning single-use plastic came from the environmental commission as an initiative developed by community members from both Chatham Township and Chatham Borough. Along with the Madison Borough Council, this initiative seeks a regional approach to end single-use plastic bags, which account for a large percentage of plastic pollution as they are discarded easily and difficult to recycle.

More than 100 people attended the meeting in Madison this May which presented the regional initiative. The importance of this plan to ban single-use plastic lies in the difficulty in the disposal of these products. In reference to this, Resto stated, “We have our single-stream recycling, but plastic bags do not go into this recycling...because of this, these bags are around, they litter, and they foul up our local environment.” This leads to recyclable material in landfills, and the contamination of natural habitats by plastic waste. 

Resto and Whitcomb along with council member Jocelyn Mathiasen supplemented the presentation with facts about American consumption of plastic. U.S. citizens use 100 billion pounds of plastic every year, which accounts to about 1500 pounds of plastic used annually by the average family. Eighty percent of all ocean pollution from plastic comes from land, and 100,000 marine animals are killed every year because of plastic runoff from sewers and storm drains.

Plastic ordinances across New Jersey have reduced plastic bag litter and increased reusable bag use, however not at a macro level.

“Microplastics have been found in New Jersey's most pristine rivers including the Raritan and Passaic, according to the Great Swamp Watershed Commision,” Resto said. 

Resto and the environmental commission are attempting to illustrate this crisis as broader than a Chatham issue but require local initiative for change. 

If this municipal ordinance passed, individual stores in Chatham would inform the corporate offices (with corporations such as Walgreens and CVS) of the new plastic ban, and to comply with the new ordinance.

Jocelyn Mathiasen talks about the transition businesses would make if the ban was put into place

There is still discussion about whether the public health officer, zoning officer, or even police would be used to enforce these new stipulations. If passed, this ordinance would have a period of transition between approval and time for businesses and organizations to replace their use of plastic bags. This transition period of 6-9 months would be before any possible violations could be given to people not complying with the ban (see the video below).

The commission wishes to present the ordinance officially in July to the Borough Council, and eventually to take effect in March or April of 2020. This period would be after businesses and local organizations have eliminated their plastic use, working in concert with other towns to have a more effective implementation of the ordinance.

Municipalities such as Summit, Madison, Livingston, Union, Morristown, Morris Plains, Parsippany, Millburn, South Orange and Maplewood have all already passed similar ordinances to crack down against single-use plastic bags.

“It has expanded from the shore towns of New Jersey inward and Morris County has become a hub for change," Whitcomb said. "A lot of these towns are committed to changing this cycle of more plastic,” Whitcomb said. 

Mathiasen closed off the presentation recommending prohibiting single-use plastic through mandatory fees, government aided awareness, as well as the ability of shopkeepers to retain revenue from fees from the sale of paper bags.

“If we can get everyone on board with this ordinance of single-use plastic bags, we can slowly expand to more types of plastic,” Mathiasen said. "I am a believer in incremental change rather than no change."