Committee passes plastic bag ban on first reading

MAPLEWOOD, NJ — Following months of debate and research, the Maplewood Township Committee passed an ordinance on first reading at its April 2 meeting to ban single-use plastic bags at retail establishments in the township and to charge consumers 5 cents per single-use paper bag. This ordinance is meant to change consumer behavior in Maplewood to positively impact the environment by reducing waste.

This move came after the ordinance was amended following the March 5 meeting, when many community members came out to ask questions, make suggestions and seek clarity on the ordinance. One such amendment allows individual retailers with the express permission of the Township Committee to distribute compostable plastic bags free of charge. At the March 5 meeting, representatives from Extra Supermarket had requested that the township look into compostable plastic bags; however, some community members spoke against compostable plastic bags at the April 2 meeting.

“I want to thank the Township Committee for all they’ve done to move this ordinance forward. I particularly appreciate the fact that they’re working with local businesses to find common ground and work together towards a solution to the plastic pollution problem,” said Sheila Baker Gujral, a member of the South Orange Environmental Advocacy Committee and the Essex County Environmental Commission. “My main concern with the ordinance is the inclusion of single-use compostable plastic bags as an alternative to single-use paper and plastic bags. I appreciate the stringent requirements, like having a monitored in-store compostable recycling program with signs at every counter, a signed agreement with an authorized compostable recycling facility and an annual certification requirement. But these bags are still plastic.

“Unfortunately, they’re not recyclable with the other plastic bags and need to be carted probably way far out of state in order to be processed at an appropriate industrial composting facility,” she continued, explaining that these bags cannot be recycled with ordinary recyclables and cannot be added to a compost pile.

Mayor Vic DeLuca responded that the ordinance is not perfect but is a compromise, especially after hearing from Extra Supermarket and the NAACP, who expressed concern for how low-income individuals might be affected by it. DeLuca said he believes Extra Supermarket is the only retailer in town that will be looking to use compostable plastic bags.

“I think they set up a pretty high hurdle for themselves to use the compostable bag,” DeLuca said. “They are committed to working with us to promote recyclable bags, so I think we should work with them.

“This may not be perfect, but it’s pretty good,” DeLuca said, adding that he hopes the state will follow suit and enact similar legislation.

The ordinance will be up for final passage, along with a public hearing, at the May 7 Maplewood Township Council meeting. If passed on second reading, the plastic bag ban will go into effect July 1, and the paper bag fee will go into effect Sept. 1.