MONTCLAIR, NJ - Montclair Township officials unanimously voted not to pass a single-use plastic bag ban on Tuesday, for now, at least.
In a heated debate, residents and merchants came out to express their views, both for and against the ban.
Mayor Robert Jackson weighed in, stating that they wanted to move quickly, but were sensitive to taking everyone's concerns into consideration.
(Editor's note: The vote was tabled until further research can be conducted.)
If approved, Montclair would have joined more than two dozen other communities throughout New Jersey banning single use plastic bags.
Business owners particularly took issue with the time needed to implement such an initiative. They insisted that they still had a considerable inventory and that customers would be the ultimate ones to pay more for paper bag options.
So, how did we get to this point?
As stricter recycling rules had begun to hit towns across New Jersey, including South Orange and Newark, the entire state has been facing a new tax on paper and plastic bags over the past year. South Orange's ban will take effect in January, giving businesses enough time to comply.
The bill, which passed in New Jersey Senate in June 2018, had been geared toward promoting reusable bag use at the supermarket and drug store.
Bill A3267 was destined to impose a 5-cent fee on single-use bags in chains or any store with retail space exceeding 2,000 square feet. If signed by Governor Phil Murphy, the proposed law would've gone into effect on October 1, 2018.
However, Murphy chose to hold off on issuing a statewide ban. He vetoed the bill in August 2018.
That didn't stop individual communities, especially many shore communities, who began to issue their own bans.
The initial Bill A3267, coincided with China’s stringent new regulations that excludes plastic bags from recycling, which as a result, means residents can no longer include them in curbside recycling collection.
The bill also would have given a portion of its tax revenue to the “Healthy Schools and Community Lead Abatement Fund,” to address lead hazards in schools and homes.
Some critics of the bill, like the Sierra Club, had called for stricter legislation, advocating for the ban of plastic altogether. They pushed for Murphy to support a stricter bill introduced by state Senator Bob Smith, which places an outright ban on single-use plastic bags, plastic straws and polystyrene containers.
Murphy stated that his reason for the veto was to look for a, "...more robust and comprehensive," method to keep plastic bags out of the environment.He particularly made mention of how the single-use plastic bags affect the natural resources of the state's shorelines and sewers.
"We must break our dependence on single-use bags when going about our daily routines and instead commit ourselves to sustainable alternatives. Our responsibilities as stewards of the environment and our natural resources demand nothing les," Murphy said in a statement.
In the District of Columbia, a similar tax was implemented in 2010, which resulted in a 60 percent decrease in household disposable bag use, according to published reports. In addition, DC stores altered their practices, with 79 percent of businesses offering a decrease in single-use bags to customers. Hawaii was a trailblazer in 2015, after passing a statewide plastic bag ban.
Though more than a dozen NJ communities have participated in a ban in their respective towns, state legislation would guarantee consistency, many advocates state.
The ban being proposed in Montclair, would require that merchants do not charge individuals for paper if they receive government financial assistance. However, asking customers for that information, then touches upon privacy laws, merchants stated.
In response to merchant's frustrations with communication and timeliness of the ban, Deputy Mayor Sean Spiller said the Montclair BID supported a ban and was also in favor of establishing timelines for business owners to get into alignment.
“You have to provide reusables in order to change behavior,” Spiller said.
According to the Montclair ordinance, if a customer does not bring their own reusable bags, then reusable bags may be provided by the retailer at a cost of 10-25 cents.
Some merchants scoffed at the amount of money it would cost them to switch from single-use plastic bags.
Even among the businesses themselves, were some differing viewpoints. Holly Farber of the Upper Montclair Business Association said that the merchants in her area supported a ban, stating that many merchants had already made the switch.
“It’s fair to say all of us want to get this done as soon as possible," Mayor Robert Jackson told the crowd.