LIVINGSTON, NJ — At the culmination of several meetings held to discuss the verbiage of an ordinance that would prohibit single-use items at local retail establishments and township facilities, Beth Lippman and Eric Baltuch, co-chairs of Livingston’s Ad Hoc Plastics Committee, presented a drafted ordinance to the governing body on Monday.

Over the last few months, members of the committee, which included both residents and business owners, provided input on the benefits and disadvantages of banning plastics within the township and helped to create what Baltuch described as a “wish list” of items to include in the final ordinance.

After reviewing ordinances being considered in other municipalities and modifying them to create an ordinance specific to Livingston, Baltuch said that although the outcome is “more ambitious than some of the other communities,” Livingston would be putting “a stake in the sand” as “a leading green community in New Jersey” by adopting it.

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In addition to Lippman, who is the executive director of the Business Improvement District, and Baltuch, director of the Livingston Recycling and Reclamation Committee, the committee was well-rounded with representatives from various local organizations, including members of the Livingston Environmental Commission (LEC) who made recommendations throughout the process.

In addition to the businesses represented at the meetings, including ShopRite, Kings, Bottle King, Saint Barnabas and more, Lippman also regularly informed and gathered input from the owners of businesses like Livingston Bagel and others who could not attend meetings in person.

The governing body is now considering the committee’s drafted ordinance, which reaffirms the township’s commitment to “promoting, creating and supporting sustainability programs in the community of Livingston.” 

“[The township] recognizes that the use of particular single-use plastics, including single-use plastic carryout bags, straws, stirrers, carry-out containers, single-use expanded polystyrene (also commonly known as Styrofoam) cups and containers, by merchants and consumers presents significant ecological, environmental and public health hazards and is increasingly creating economic burdens on the township,” the proposed ordinance reads. “Disposable plastic bags and other single-use plastics are a detriment to the ecology and quality of the local waterways. The community of Livingston has worked hard for many years to develop an effective recycling program that it will continue to support.”

It also states that as “a river community,” the Township of Livingston has “a cultural commitment to a thriving and healthy Passaic River within its jurisdictional boundaries, which, in turn, promotes the quality of life and the associated welfare of the township’s residents.”

Some highlights of the drafted ordinance as presented on Monday include the following:

  • All retail establishments will be prohibited from providing (with or without fee) any single-use polystyrene carryout containers, including cups used for beverages; plastic straws and stirrers; and plastic carryout bags.
  • Retail establishments will also be prohibited from including single-use utensils with any delivery or other outside orders without the customer’s specific request. If a customer requests utensils, the utensils provided must not be plastic.
  • All Livingston facilities, Livingston-managed concessions, Livingston-sponsored events and Livingston-permitted events will be prohibited from using the same items listed above. This applies to the Livingston Board of Education, event organizers, event food vendors and any other party (including nonprofit organizations) who enter into an agreement with one or more of the co-sponsors to distribute prepared food at the event or otherwise provide an event-related service.
  • All Livingston departments will be prohibited from purchasing single-use plastic bags, polystyrene food service ware and plastic straws.

The ordinance, which would be adopted as an amendment to the “Code of the Township of Livingston,” mentions that the township’s goal—in collaboration with an extension of the LEC called “Township’s Green Team”—is to “promote the use of reusable items, such as reusable bags as carry-out bags in the Township of Livingston.”

In relation to this goal, additional language in the drafted ordinance specifies the following:

  • Customers will not be prohibited from using their own bags of any type to carry purchased goods from retail establishments or from carrying goods without the use of a bag.
  • Retail establishments will not be prohibited from providing a credit to a customer who has supplied his or her own bags.
  • Retail establishments will not be prohibited from selling reusable bags, including those made of cloth or other fabric with handles that are specifically designed and manufactured for multiple reuses.

If adopted, the ordinance will go into effect four months from the day it is signed. For the first 18 months following the four-month transition period, retail establishments will be permitted to provide paper carryout bags upon request for a fee of $0.10 per customer.

According to the ordinance, the LEC and other township committees will monitor the impact to the community during those 18 months. Based on their findings, the committees will determine whether the township should continue to permit the compliant paper bags for a fee or provide another informed recommendation to the council.

The language included in the drafted ordinance regarding enforcement, violations and penalties was borrowed from other communities. As the governing body continues to discuss the ordinance, the mayor and council will determine the appropriate enforcement, violations and penalties for Livingston.

According to the ordinance presented on Monday, the plastics committee is suggesting the following:

  • Any person, corporation, occupant or entity that violates or fails to comply with any provision of this article or any of the rules and regulations promulgated hereunder shall be given a written warning on the first offense.
  • A second offense shall be punishable by a fine not to exceed $100.
  • A third violation will be considered a separate offense and will include a fine of $100 per day.
  • Fines levied and collected will be immediately deposited into the Municipal Recycling Trust Fund to be used for the expenses of the Municipal Recycling Program.
  • The township will determine a committee or individual to enforce the provisions of the ordinance. An inspection may consist of, but is not limited to, sorting through containers and opening solid waste bags to detect the presence of any prohibited materials.

As part of the presentation, Lippman also explained language in the ordinance that specifies some possible exemptions, such as Saint Barnabas Medical Center, whose representatives on the committee were concerned about certain health issues.

“They can’t have things that are washed or reusable,” said Lippman. "People want to know that it’s packaged and that it’s clean and it’s never been used before, especially in a hospital. So, we do have a section in here for anyone who thinks it’s a hardship or would need some sort of exemption.”

Based on this recommendation, the ordinance states that paper bags will be provided without charge to any customer who states that he or she participates in, or is a beneficiary of, any United States government federal welfare program, including but not limited to: the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), any local or county welfare assistance program, or any New Jersey State welfare program.

Upon a “showing of extraordinary circumstances, and for good cause,” the mayor (or his or her designee) may also approve an exemption from these requirements by any operator of a retail establishment with the concurrence of the LEC.

Additionally, the ordinance acknowledges that state law enables any municipality in New Jersey to enact any ordinance that it deems necessary for “the good government, order and protection of persons and property, and for the preservation of the public health, safety and welfare of the municipality and its inhabitants.” (This is in accordance to state law N.J.S.A. 40:48-2.)

Although there had been prior concerns about residents visiting other towns to do their shopping due to these changes, the governing body reiterated on Monday that most other municipalities are looking into these issues as well.

In fact, Baltuch noted that West Orange Township Council President Jerry Guarino attended some of Livingston’s meetings to listen in on the items being considered so that his own community can start moving in the same direction.

“We heard from all different viewpoints and tried to put it all together to come up with the best legislation—maybe even better than the state’s,” said Mayor Al Anthony, who thanked all members of the committee for their hard work and local businesses for providing valuable input.

If adopted, the ordinance requires that the Township of Livingston “undertake an education program to inform community members about how they may reduce, reuse and recycle single-use materials.”

More information will be provided as the conversation continues.