(UPDATE: The bag fee will now go into effect on Jan. 7, not Jan. 1 as previously reported. This story has been updated to reflect the new date.)

SOMERS POINT — Surrounded by water on three sides, the city needed to do something to lessen the number of single-use plastic bags polluting the environment, said Councilman Ron Meischker.

So earlier this year, it passed an ordinance requiring stores to impose a 5-cent fee on each such bag taken at the checkout, effective Jan. 7. The fee is kept by the stores, but those on public assistance don’t have to pay it, said Meischker.

Restaurants are exempt, as are street vendors. And plastic bags without handles may still be used to hold bulk food, produce, meat and seafood, and prescription medications, according to the ordinance.

“Plastic bags are an absolute nuisance out there,” said Meischker, who is also co-founder of the Patcong Creek Foundation, an educational nonprofit that conducts regular cleanups. “They are a danger to marine life, and they are in the marshes, in the water, in the osprey nests and trees. This is avoidable by curtailing the use of them.”

The city joins other New Jersey towns, including Longport and Ventnor, that have imposed such fees to cut down on plastics pollution.

But with one of the highest-volume grocery stores in the region within its borders — ShopRite — the Somers Point ordinance may have more impact than most.

ShopRite, located on Bethel Road, recently posted a notice on its Facebook page saying it would provide inexpensive reusable bags for a limited time, to help people adjust to the new law and start bringing their own bags.

“Due to the town’s single-use plastic bag fee, we will be offering 10¢ reusable plastic bags and 25¢ reusable totes for a limited time,” the post said. “Please take advantage to save money and help the environment.”

The Somers Point ShopRite referred all calls to a Village Super Market corporate office in Millburn, Essex County, where no one was available early Saturday to comment.

Acme also has a store at New and Bethel roads, but its Facebook page did not include information on the new law.

At the nearby Wawa on Ocean Heights Avenue, manager Ashley Messam, of Galloway Township, said her staff has not put up posters or started talking to customers about the change. But the store will be ready to charge for bags starting Jan. 7.

She didn’t think it would be a problem for Wawa customers, who typically buy just a handful of items.

“They don’t really need a bag,” she said of most customers.

While Mike Smarrito, of Somers Point, is supportive of cutting down on use of plastic bags, he doesn’t think a bag fee is the answer.

“We’re paying enough,” he said as he entered the store.

Susan Drinhouser, of Somers Point, was leaving the ShopRite on Saturday afternoon with a cart full of about 10 plastic shopping bags — and one reusable bag.

“I think it’s a good idea,” said Drinhouser, who usually uses mostly reusable bags but didn’t bring them all with her Saturday. “It’s reasonable, and better for the environment.”

After hearing about the coming change in law, Gail Christian, of Somers Point, made it a point to bring about a dozen large reusable bags while food shopping Saturday.

“Normally I forget to bring them, even though I own them,” she said, estimating she taken home about 20 plastic bags on each shopping trip.

Meischker said the city has provided posters to stores to educate consumers about why the fee is being imposed.

He said council is considering a request by ShopRite to expand the ordinance to impose the fee on both plastic and paper single-use bags, as many towns have, and a proposed state law vetoed by Gov. Phil Murphy earlier this year would have done.

“We weren’t as concerned because they don’t pose the same threats to wildlife that plastic bags do,” said Meischker. “But from the standpoint of conserving ... they do come from trees.”

Meischker said most of the feedback he’s gotten on the ordinance has been positive, but it critics who call it a tax are wrong.

“It’s not a tax, it’s a choice to pay or be a good environmental steward,” he said.

Contact: 609-272-7219 mpost@pressofac.com Twitter @MichelleBPost

Staff Writer

In my first job after college got paid to read the New York Times and summarize articles for an early online data base. First reporting job was with The Daily Record in Parsippany. I have also worked in nonprofits, and have been with The Press since 1990.

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