NUTLEY, NJ - A Nutley resident raised concerns on banning single-use plastic bags during the public comment portion of the Tuesday, Aug. 20 Board of Commissioners meeting.  Parks and Recreation Commissioner Mauro G. Tucci was absent excused.

Joan Rubino of Nutley presented her findings and reasons why she believes banning single-use plastic bags is bad for the public and environment. Rubino said she wanted to alert the commissioners before they make any decisions from teen resident Braden Somers who spoke during the public comment portion of the Jan. 15 meeting.

During that January meeting, Somers, 13, gave a presentation on the negative effects of single-use plastic bags. According to Somers research, 13 million tons of plastic is dumped into our ocean each year. See related story at Nutley Girl Scout Says The Source of a Local Green New Deal is in the Bags.

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“I commend her for her commitment to the environment and I agree that plastic bags are a danger but this young lady only told one part of the story,” she said.

Rubino said she never used a reusable grocery bag and never will, as she believes they are unsanitary.

According to Rubino’s research, hundreds of millions of reusable bags are made in China and other countries and some are found to contain dangerous amounts of lead, several times the amount allowed by law.

According to the 2010 Joint Food and Safety Report issued by the University of Arizona and Loma Linda University in California, reusable bags contain mold and yeast and food-borne bacteria including E. coli and salmonella.

Rubino said that harmful bacteria can thrive in the bags, especially if they are stored in a car. “They actually grow 10 times faster in this kind of environment. […] We are using bags that can be dirtier than your toilet seat. If they are not properly sanitized […] after each use you’re courting trouble,” she said.

Soap and at a water temperature of at least 140 degrees is needed to be considered sanitized. According to the survey conducted by the universities 97 percent of the people polled never cleaned their reusable bags.

“I’m sure all of you are aware of the warnings of contaminating your kitchen when you make chicken […] because of that cross-contamination.  Just think of all the cross-contamination these filthy bags your taking them to the store, other people are put as risk even if they are not using the bags themselves,” Rubino said.

Rubino asked if banning single-use plastic bags is a reasonable solution and if the board of commissioners have taken any steps to move forward with this ban as other towns and states have done.

Revenue and Finance Commissioner Thomas J. Evans said he is also doing research on both single-use and reusable plastic bags. The carbon energy to manufacture a reusable bag, cotton or paper, is greater than the single-use plastic bags. He is also concerned on the sanitation and safety of reusable bags.

The state has also brought up the idea of banning plastic bags again. Evans would like to also include plastic straws to the ban, advocating for single-use paper straws instead.

Rubino said it’s impossible that people will clean their bags, because of the lifestyles people live. She asked if it’s trading one problem for another with the level of contamination. “Some of the people surveyed with these polls they had no concern for the germs,” she said.

Evans suggested educating the public on the safety standards that are required with reusable cloth bags. “The more educated we become on all of the issues, not just the single focus of disposing the bags, maybe we can come up with a better solution,” he said. “There is still going to be in my mind a significance level of accountability on an individual to sanitize ad keep them sanitized,” he added.

Petracco added his concerns about the ocean and plastic. “It is really horrible how we are leaving this word for the next generation, with this plastic. And I don’t know how you get away from it. […] Even if you drive by the Passaic River you can see all the plastic on the ‘shore line’ and it gets into the ocean,” he said.

According to Rubino, the amount of plastic in the water is overstated. “There’s also a lot of controversy about just how much [plastic] is in the ocean. They say the size of Texas, and they say that is overstated.”

Public Affairs Commissioner Steven L. Rogers said two seniors approached him with concerns on the potential plastic ban and that they were charged a fee for plastic bags in one of the stores. He said it a single-use plastic bag ban could have an economic impact on businesses. “They are actually leaving Nutley in certain stores, and they are going to Belleville and they are going to Clifton because there is no plastic bag ban there.

Rogers also suggested educating the public. “Education on the environment, what to do with plastic bags, properly disposing of them. We have recycling,” he said.

Rubino added, “People use them for multiple purposes. […] To pick up dog waste, for storage or to line their trash cans. Now they are not going to have these bags, but they will buy other plastic bags to do the job.”

Mayor and Public Works Commissioner Joseph P. Scarpelli said the township will really look into it and study all sides before introducing an ordinance to ban plastic bags.

The next Board of Commissioners meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 3.