PLAINFIELD, NJ - New Jersey is poised to ban plastic shopping bags and many other disposable plastic convenience items as part of an effort to help our environment. Star Fish Food Pantry in Plainfield has already take steps to adjust to the proposed ban, purchasing a new type of compostable plastic “bio bag” for their food distribution system.
The food pantry has been providing food to the hungry in Plainfield since the early 1970’s. Formed through a coalition of religious leaders and concerned residents, Star Fish, Inc. was formed as a source of aid for those in need.
Operating out of residents’ homes at first, volunteers collected food donations from area churches and synagogues and then responded to calls from hungry families in Plainfield. Grocery bags were filled with food staples and delivered to those in need. Star Fish also provided transportation and related services to the elderly. Over time, those latter services became less needed and the group focused on its mission of providing food to the hungry.
Housed in the Covenant United Methodist Church, Star Fish volunteers pack food three days a week and deliver it to local social service agencies, such as Plainfield Action Services, HomeFirst, and others. Basic food items are bagged in brown grocery bags that are inserted into plastic shopping bags for added strength and for ease of carrying.
With the pending ban on these plastic bags, and out of concern for the negative impact the bags have on the environment, Star Fish searched for an alternative method of delivering the bags of food. “We tried using several different types of brown paper bags, including some with cord-style handles,” said Michael Townley, one of the volunteers. “Without the outer plastic bag as a support, the brown bags alone tended to tear, causing problems for the person making the delivery and the clients picking up the food at our partner agencies.”
After searching the internet for alternatives to the ubiquitous plastic shopping bags made from petrochemicals, Star Fish found a plastic “bio bag” made from plant material that is 100% compostable. “We are thrilled to be in a position to shift from ‘old plastic’ to ‘new plastic’ bags,” said Marie Pase, the agency’s volunteer director. “While many plastic bags claim to be recyclable, they take many, many years to break down in landfills, and even then they leave chemicals behind. Our new plant-based plastic bio bags will compost in the landfills, returning themselves safely to the environment.”
Star Fish uses 4,500 to 5,000 brown grocery bags every year in their food distribution program. This number includes almost 1,500 bags used for the Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas holiday dinner packaging each year. With every brown bag inserted into a plastic bag, thousands of plastic bags go out and eventually pollute the environment. Now, those support bags will be the environmentally friendly, compostable bio bags.
Star Fish selected bags that are produced by Good Sense Packaging in Bedford, New Hampshire. A shipment of 1,500 bags arrived last week and are in place for when Star Fish volunteers resume operations after January 1, 2020.
Volunteers at the food pantry also recycle cardboard boxes, either back to the donors or into area recycling centers. They also recycle paper and plastic containers, films and bags. They installed LED lighting and use a timer on air conditioning in the summer to help reduce electrical use. The air conditioning runs only five hours on the three days that the pantry is open.
“We know that our volunteers and the people who support us with their food and monetary donations are sensitive to our environment,” said Ms. Pase. “Taking these important steps to conserve energy and to reduce pollution caused by chemical-based plastic bags help us do our part to contribute to a healthier planet.”
The local food pantry is a tax exempt, 501(c)(3) corporation. Donations are accepted through the agency’s website, where you can also learn more about their operations and history. Visit the website at www.starfishplainfield.org. Anyone from Plainfield who is in need of food assistance should call Plainfield Action Services at 908-753-3519.