South Orange and Maplewood pledge to skip plastic

SOUTH ORANGE / MAPLEWOOD, NJ — Businesses, shoppers and town governments are joining forces to help SOMA kick the plastic habit on the first weekend in May.

Beginning May 3, the campaign will culminate on May 6 with River Day, a cleanup of the Rahway River, which runs through both Maplewood and South Orange.

The program is a follow-up to last September’s SO Not Plastic, a public awareness campaign that challenged South Orange to go without single-use plastic for seven days.

“That is actually impossible, so we promoted seven tips for reducing waste and over 2,000 neighbors participated while over 100 signed the pledge,” South Orange environmental activist Patricia Canning, who spearheaded the effort, said.

“About 12 percent of plastic waste gets incinerated, polluting the air, including our own, as SOMA’s waste is burned in nearby Newark. This is also a social justice issue as the incinerator is in a low-income, primarily minority committee,” said Jennifer Nielsen, chairwoman of SOMa Action Climate, which is participating in the effort along with the South Orange and Maplewood green teams.

“Plastic waste is also toxic to wildlife — like fish, marine birds and animals — that ingest it. Humans also ingest plastic through water, seafood and air; surveys have found BPA in the blood of 93 percent of Americans, and phthalates in nearly all,” Nielsen said. BPA and phthalates are plastic components linked to hormonal changes in animals, including humans.

BYO Bag weekend from May 4 through 6 encourages shoppers to skip plastic bags, ask for paper bags and bring their own bags. Merchants in South Orange Village, on Springfield Avenue in Maplewood and in Millburn have signed on, pledging not to give out single-use shopping bags from May 3 through 6, instead offering paper bags supplied by campaign organizers.

“Maplewood is committed to sustainability and our environment,” Maplewood Deputy Mayor Frank McGehee said. “Please join me and your fellow merchants on May 4, 5 and 6 for no plastic day in Maplewood.”

To measure whether the campaign was successful, organizers will survey plastic bag use at businesses before and after the weekend.