MAPLEWOOD, NJ — March looks to be green this year, and not just for St. Patrick’s Day: From the discussions at the Tuesday, Feb. 17 Maplewood Township Committee meeting, the March 3 meeting is likely to have several environmentally friendly ordinances ready for first read and public comment.

Committee member Nancy Adams led a discussion about drafting an ordinance banning disposable food containers made of polystyrene foam, commonly known as Styrofoam. 

Paramus passed a similar ordinance at the end of last year, which went into effect Jan. 1. According to that ordinance, polystyrene foam contains styrene, a known neurotoxin and suspected carcinogen which — from disposable food service ware and packaging — can get into food and drink, potentially threatening human health. Presently, it occupies nearly 30 percent of landfill space in America and, in New Jersey, 38 percent of all plastic pollution in the Hackensack River. 

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The Maplewood ordinance could start Oct. 1, after being introduced for first read in March and potentially passing in April.

Another ordinance being drafted for first read on March 3 would regulate restaurants and other food vendors’ offerings of straws, utensils, individual packets of condiments, and accessories for take out or delivery — asking businesses to only provide them upon request. For instance, if a customer gets take-out soup and a drink, a spoon and straw would not be allowed to be automatically included in the bag; even asking the customer if they would want the plasticware and/or condiments in the bag would be verboten. The purpose of this would be to reduce waste and non-recyclable plastic in the garbage stream.

During the 20-minute discussion, Committee Member Vic De Luca seemed skeptical about the practicality for the food vendors. “We have to strike a balance between [allowing] them to do their business and what we are trying to accomplish” environmentally, said De Luca. When discussing whether the ordinance should preclude businesses from having single-portion packets and plasticware out for customers to choose themselves — thereby regulating that they must be behind the counter — he opined, “I just think we’re imposing on businesses,” and mentioned that other communities with similar regulations are allowing self-select areas for customers. “I agree with you all about not putting it in the bag automatically,” he said to his fellow committee members, but expressed he did not want consumers frustrated and businesses burdened.

Adams amended the proposal to ban plastic straws and plastic stirrers in those self-service areas, although they would be allowed upon request. Deputy Mayor Dean Dafis noted that the impact would be limited, but, he said, “it’s a step in the right direction.”

To solicit feedback from those affected, it was decided to send a letter to Maplewood businesses with food licenses to let them know that their input could be heard at the first read of the ordinance on March 3; the public is always afforded public comment speaking time as well. 

On another environmentally friendly note, De Luca noted proposed revisions to Maplewood’s plastic and paper bag ordinance, which went into effect last July 1. Compostable bags will be removed from the ban entirely, and the definition of reusable bags will be tightened up.

The last agenda item with environmental consequences was a short discussion to begin to consider switching the town’s recycling collection to dual stream; this would mean that, for example, paper would be collected biweekly and plastic/glass would be collected also biweekly but on the non-paper weeks. During the meeting at which the contract with F. Basso was renewed, Dave Basso, the company’s operations manager, had mentioned that it would save the township money.

Because the contract with F. Basso is for single stream recycling collection, this potential switch would only be able to begin in spring 2021. “We have a year now to figure out what we’re going to do,” De Luca said. It was noted that Hoboken, having made the switch, has saved $250,000 a year. Another idea put forward was to consider buying recycling trucks and bringing recycling collection in-house.