LIVINGSTON, NJ – At the urging of Livingston’s Township Council, the Ad Hoc Plastics Committee met recently to discuss the benefits and disadvantages of passing an ordinance banning single use plastic.
Attendees included committee co-chairs Beth Lippman and Eric Baltuch; Mayor Al Anthony and Councilman Shawn Klein; representatives from local businesses including ShopRite, Kings and Bottle King; Scott Goldman from the Livingston Township Recycling and Reclamation Committee; Green Team member Walter LeVine; and several township residents.
“We have a diverse committee representing businesses and residents of Livingston,” said Lippman. “Everyone on this committee is in agreement that steps need to be taken to begin to reduce the use of products that are harming our environment.
“This committee will work together to provide the town council with recommendations of ‘best practices’ in reducing the use of the following: single use plastic bags, plastic straws, plastic utensils and Styrofoam, responding to the concerns of Livingston Residents, to help make a collective impact on preventing waste and litter, and reducing plastic pollution.”
Attendees of last week’s meeting agreed that in order to ban plastic within the community, an ongoing marketing and community outreach program would be necessary to help residents accept and abide by the new rules. The committee also noted that it would take some time for the public and business district to adjust to the transition.
According to the committee, some stores in other towns have distributed free, reusable bags or discount bags to help the public ease into the new practice.
The group also discussed how customers would react to a plastic ban. One store representative mentioned that green packaging sometimes isn’t as sturdy and resilient as plastic. It was noted that scientists are currently working on strong and sustainable replacements for plastics and have produced biodegradable plastics made from vegetable fats and oils, straw, food waste, etc.
The conversation also touched on ways to motivate customers to stop using plastic, such as imposing fines for people who use plastic bags or giving credit to those who bring reusable bags. One store representative at the meeting, however, said that these programs cause a great deal of work for the establishments and that they are not always successful.
Another business owner shared that when the store stopped using plastic bags, some customers opted to patronize stores in neighboring towns that do not have a plastic ban ordinance.
Additionally, members of the committee also noted that paper bags are not only significantly more expensive than plastic bags, but also require a great deal of energy to produce and to recycle. One store representative mentioned that converting to sustainable packaging could also cost up to $100,000 for supermarkets.
Although a representative from Aldi was unable to attend, the committee acknowledged the market as one local venue that no longer provides plastic bags to patrons as they depart with their purchases. Aldi submitted an official statement prior to the meeting confirming its commitment to using 100 percent reusable and compostable containers for its store brand.
“New Jersey will eventually make the ban a law, but many towns are considering and implementing ordinances in the meantime,” said LeVine, who also reported that four-and-a-half billion plastic bags were used in New Jersey in 2018 alone.
The Livingston Environmental Commission (LEC) has met twice thus far to discuss the issue and to make recommendations.
Some of the LEC’s recommendations included the following:
- Ban single-use plastic bags with exceptions for food safety or privacy.
- Educate businesses’ employees and provide signage encouraging customers to bring reusable bags to the store. Also, the Livingston Environmental Commission should provide free, reusable bags at several township events, such as the Newcomers Event.
- Use recyclable paper bags for restaurant carryout/deliveries.
- A complete ban plastic straws, with paper straws and utensils only allowed upon request. Exceptions would include Saint Barnabas Medical Center, take-out orders and other situations.
- A complete ban on Styrofoam and similar packaging on foodstuffs and other products.
- Potential hardship exemptions known as “carve outs” for instances where the ban on plastic bags can’t be executed immediately and exceptions will be “allowable for now.”
Overall, the mayor said he was pleased with outcome of the first meeting, stating that there was “a good cross-section of the community” involved in the discussion that will “be impacted by a ban on plastics.”
“The free exchange of ideas was very valuable and informative,” said Anthony. “I look forward to the next meeting.”
The next meeting will be held during the first two weeks of August. The committee hopes to have representatives from New Jersey Clean Water Action, the Livingston Green Team, the New Jersey Food Council, representatives from Saint Barnabas Medical Center and the Livingston Mall and anyone else who wants to contribute to the conversation.
The Ad Hoc Plastics Committee plans to research if other towns are considering a plastic ban ordinance and is currently seeking input from all residents and organizations in order to make the best recommendations to the township council.