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Where do plastic bag fees go? In Somers Point, one store is donating to charity

SOMERS POINT — Santori’s Produce & Deli co-owner Gino Santori says the small grocer on Route 9 could bring in hundreds of extra dollars a month, money that isn't wanted.

The city recently enacted a 5-cent fee on plastic bags, and merchants are required to keep the money collected from bag sales.

But Santori and his three brothers, who run the store, don’t want the extra nickels. The family-owned business is instead donating the proceeds to the Marine Mammal Stranding Center in Brigantine.

“We didn’t want to get rich at the environment’s expense,” Santori said. “We wanted to ease (customers’) minds that their money isn’t going into our pockets.”

The ordinance went into effect Jan. 7 with the intention of cutting down on the 8 million tons of plastic that pollutes the world’s oceans each year. Somers Point is one of a number of Atlantic County shore towns, including Ventnor and Longport, that have enacted the fees.

Some residents, however, hoped the fees would be collected by the city to fund environmental initiatives locally.

“I am against charging the consumer to begin with, but not having the money dedicated to some environmental effort of some sort seems rather silly,” said City Council President Sean McGuigan, who voted against the fee.

Councilman Ron Meischker, who spearheaded the initiative, said the city decided not to collect the fee because that would be considered a tax. The ordinance lets stores be guided by their own corporate consciences, he said.

“If we mandate that the money comes back to the city, then it’s a tax,” he said. “It’s not our place to do that.”

A few businesses are considering only selling biodegradable paper bags, Meischker said, including CVS, Dollar Tree and Staples.

Santori said his store will donate the proceeds to the stranding center on a monthly basis. The deli sold about 2,500 bags in the week since the fee was enacted, equal to about $125. He noticed the store has cut its plastic bag usage by about 50 percent.

“We agree with the ordinance but disagree with owners keeping the nickel,” Santori said. “Now, it’s going to an environmental cause.”

It’s a win for the Brigantine nonprofit, too, which this year is required by the federal government for the first time to test all seals for distemper, said the center’s founding director Bob Schoelkopf.

Lab tests can be expensive, Schoelkopf said, and the donations will help cover those costs. The center is waiting on results for a seal that washed up on Monmouth Beach three weeks ago.

“The donations will be earmarked for those lab tests,” Schoelkopf said. “Hopefully, this might encourage other food stores to do the same.”

Contact: 609-272-7258 Twitter @AvalonZoppo

Staff Writer

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