Update: The story originally quoted Village Trustee Stephen Schnall. It should have quoted Village Trustee Walter Clarke. The story has been updated to reflect this change.
SOUTH ORANGE, NJ - As Earth Day comes and goes each year, people participate in clean-up projects for bettering the environment.
But a local group of parents, who mostly know each other because their children attend South Mountain Elementary School, had a different idea.
They organized a rally on Monday at the South Orange Train Station to show their support for a reuseable bag ordinance that the South Orange Board of Trustees is trying to approve. Originally the final reading of the ordinance was supposed to be approved on April 22, but that date has since been pushed back until June.
Their children also came to the rally. So did board of trustee members.
"There's support from all different angles and generations," said Georgia Madiba, a parent who organized the rally. When a lot of kids think of Earth Day, they think of picking up trash. But we also need to teach them there are preventative measures. We should prevent people from having plastic bags in the first place so we don't have to pick them up if they become litter."
South Orange is trying to implement a local law banning plastic bags from being sold in retail stores in town and for charging a fee for paper bags. The board of trustees recently renamed the proposed law to a reuseable bag ordinance because one of its main goals is to encourage patrons to use their own bags when they shop.
The proposed ban is part of a large movement statewide that municipalities are undergoing to encourage their residents to engage in practices that are more environmentally-friendly.
Village President Sheena Collum said there needs to be more action taken at the state and county level in regard to banning plastic and encouraging reuseable bags to be used more frequently.
"Right now, quite frankly the environment should be one of our number one priorities for our community and for the world," said Collum. "If we each take small steps to implement policies at the local level, we can make really drastic changes throughout this country. This is one small step and it will continue to grow larger and larger through the work of our volunteers in the community."
There are exceptions to when people will be permitted to carry out their items under the proposed law in South Orange such as for produce, small hardware items, frozen foods, meat, fish, unwrapped prepared foods or bakery goods, pharmacy prescriptions, flowers and potted plants. Plastic bags will also be given out if people buy fish or insects at a pet store, for gift wrapping, or for take out food at a restaurant.
Senior citizens and people using the New Jersey State Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program will be exempt from paying the fees for paper bags.
The township recently created a task force so local business owners and members of the South Orange Environmental Commission could work together in addressing concerns raised about the ordinance and to find feasible solutions for implementing the law.
Village Trustee Walter Clarke said the village is trying to encourage people to use shopping bags the way people did generations ago and to undo what he called "a disposable society," where people receive an item such as a plastic bag and throw it away.
"We don't want to end up on a large pile of plastic because while plastic is only about 70 or 80 years old, we don't know what it's life span is. It's a fantastic technology but not as a single-use technology," said Clarke.
He said there isn't a "great end product recycling market" for items such as plastic.
"We want to encourage the use of reuseable bags, prevent the use of plastic bags, and put a 5 cent fee on papers bags so we really make the change so people move on to using reusable bags," said Bill Haskins, chairman of the South Orange Environmental Commission.