Maplewood bans single-use plastic bags

MAPLEWOOD, NJ — The Maplewood Township Committee unanimously passed an ordinance that will ban plastic bags in local businesses at its meeting May 7, putting into effect on June 1 a law that will prohibit local businesses from giving customers plastic shopping bags. On Aug. 1, retail establishments will begin to charge a fee of 5 cents for a paper bag, according to the ordinance.

The ordinance allows for exemptions. Any customer who is a participant in a government welfare program will be able to use a plastic bag free of charge and customers aged 65 and older will receive paper bags free of charge if they ask and provide proof of age. The director of the Department of Community Development will enforce the ordinance, and any business found to be violating it will be fined.

Sheila Baker Gujral, a member of the Maplewood Environmental Advisory Committee and the Essex County Environmental Commission, spoke at the meeting in support of passing the ordinance. Gujral also works for the Association of New Jersey Environmental Commissions.

“I want to thank the Township Committee for working with the residents with the businesses to craft an ordinance that can be workable for everyone,” she said at the meeting. “Last week at NJEC we celebrated having over 50 plastic ordinances passed in the state.”

Gujral said ordinances that have been passed include banning plastic bags, Styrofoam and plastic straws. She also discussed Maplewood’s river cleanup the previous week, saying that many plastic bags were pulled out of the Rahway River and that the ordinance would reduce the amount of plastic bags going into the river.

“They get stuck on the rocks and in vegetation and they don’t break down,” Gujral said. “This ordinance will have a direct impact on our river and I anticipate next year we’ll be telling a different story during our river cleanup.”

Maplewood Green Team Chairwoman Tracey Woods said at the meeting that the organization is ready to help the township with outreach and educating the public about the plastic bag ban. Posters will be placed in businesses with the information, reusable shopping bags will be given away and a raffle for customers who use reusable bags will take place. The Green Team will also help businesses print their logos on reusable bags to be given to members of the public.

“Everybody knows we are in a climate crisis, everybody knows that plastic is bad for the climate, whether it’s incinerated or it ends up in the ocean,” Maplewood resident Diane Simmons said at the meeting. “We really don’t need those plastic bags. People shopped and carried goods around in the days before they were available. It’s doable.”

Mayor Vic DeLuca said at the meeting that he and Woods met with several businesses about the ordinance that are supportive of the measures being taken.

“We also saw in the last few days that Sen. Smith is looking to move forward with his state law,” DeLuca said. “We’ll see what happens with that. If that passes that would be great across the state, but in the meantime we’re going to move forward.”

Democratic state Sen. Bob Smith, who represents District 17, which includes parts of Middlesex and Somerset counties, has introduced a bill to plan plastic bags, plastic straws and Styrofoam with a 10-cent fee on paper bags. Gov. Phil Murphy vetoed a version of the bill in August, saying it was not strict enough. Smith is currently working on an amendment to the bill that would also ban paper bags, and is hoping it will reach the Senate floor in June.

Most attendees at the meeting were in support of the ordinance and applauded after the committee voted.

“That doesn’t happen very often,” Committeewoman Nancy Adams joked.