BRIGANTINE — Residents will no longer find plastic bags at the checkout lines of their local stores, and city officials hope this means they will no longer find them along the city’s beaches.
City Council unanimously adopted an ordinance Sept. 5 that will make it unlawful for businesses including supermarkets, drugstores, food marts and restaurants to provide single-use carryout bags made of plastic.
Council hopes the ban, which will go into effect June 1, 2019, will encourage shoppers to bring reusable bags when they shop. Any business that violates the ordinance will be subject to a fine of no less than $5 and no more than $500 per violation.
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Beth Kwart, chairwoman of the Surfrider Foundation South Jersey Chapter, said she and others have been working to reduce plastic in Brigantine since 2011, and was excited that the city took a stance to reduce plastic waste.
“It shows that you need legislation if you want to change behavior,” Kwart said. “With the increasing amount of plastic that’s going into the ocean every year, we really need legislation right now.”
While other shore towns in Atlantic County, such as Longport and Ventnor, had moved to implement fees on plastic bags, Brigantine removed the option of plastic bags entirely.
“Bans are certainly better than fees on plastic,” Kwart said. “Obviously it will reduce plastic more because it won't be available, so it is a good thing to have the ban.”
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Council had amended the ordinance based on Kwart’s suggestions at previous meetings.
“She’s been a great resource for the city to help and to create something that is meaningful,” Councilman Vince Sera said.
The ordinance defines reusable bags as bags designed and manufactured to withstand repeated uses over time and are machine-washable or made of material that can be cleaned regularly such as cotton or polyester.
“That was very important because if they had left the plastic option for reusable bag it just opens a loophole for businesses to start giving out thicker plastic bags that are causing more issues in the environment,” Kwart said. “I’m glad that they came to that definition and closed that loophole so that plastic bags really won't be given away for free at all.”
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Kwart said she believed council could have done more to ensure the use of reusable bags by putting a fee on paper bags.
“In a lot of places they’ve seen that people just switch to paper; they don’t start bringing their own bags,” Kwart said.
Still, Kwart said she supports the measure and hopes it will send a message to Gov. Phil Murphy, who in August vetoed a bill that would have placed a five-cent fee on plastic and paper bag use statewide.
“It is sending a strong message to the state that municipalities want to see a bag ban,” Kwart said. “They don’t want to see a fee on plastic.”
Having passed the ordinance with consideration of the state’s potential action, Sera echoed Kwart’s belief that Brigantine could send a message to the state.
“I personally believe that we need a statewide solution on this,” Sera said. “I don’t think it's fair for business to have this checkerboard, quiltwork of laws and regulations that they have to follow.
“I think we need to do something locally, and I think it's important for all municipalities to get together to send a message to the state Legislature and the governor that this is something that's important and something that needs to move forward."