Shoppers in Ventnor can expect to see changes in the checkout line now that the city has chosen to prioritize the use of reusable bags.
The Board of Commissioners voted unanimously Feb. 22 to adopt an ordinance that will require stores to charge a fee of at least 5 cents for every single-use bag, both paper and plastic, starting Oct. 1.
Drafted with the help of local environmental groups, the new law aims to reduce the amount of paper and plastic waste as well as lessen the effect of paper and plastic manufacturing on the environment.
“This ordinance will certainly send a message that single-use plastic comes at a cost that previously, publicly was not considered by many people,” said Monica Coffey, a Ventnor resident, member of the Ventnor Green Team and chairwoman of Sustainable Margate.
Ventnor joins Longport as the second municipality in Atlantic County to require fees on single-use bags. Longport instituted a 10-cent fee in 2016.
The ordinance stands to have a bigger impact in Ventnor, which has more businesses, including an Acme supermarket.
The city will only require “covered stores,” defined as general vendors, retail or wholesale establishments such as drug stores, grocery stores, convenience stores and liquor stores, to charge the fee.
These businesses will retain all money the fee garners.
Restaurants with dine-in facilities and street vendors are exempt from this ordinance.
Shoppers enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children are also exempt.
Mayor Beth Holtzman did not readily support the ordinance when it was first discussed in May.
“This is something that I wasn’t for originally, but after looking at it, and I think honestly with what's going on in our world, I think we need to worry about the younger generations. We need to make changes for them,” Holtzman said.
Although he said he supported the fee on plastic bags, resident Chris Breece requested the commission reconsider requiring a fee on paper bags along with them.
“By placing the fee on all bags, you’d actually be creating a no-option system where you either pay for a paper bag, you pay for a plastic bag or you pay for a reusable bag,” Breece said.
Beth Kwart, chairwoman of the Surfrider Foundation, South Jersey Chapter, one of the groups that helped write the ordinance, said they had reached the decision to place a fee on both paper and plastic after researching the impact similar ordinances had across the country.
She said paper bags cost retailers an average of 10 to 15 cents while plastic only cost 1 to 2 cents.
“It becomes a burden on the merchant that they have to go from paper to plastic and provide that item for free,” she said.
Commissioner Lance B. Landgraf Jr. said the city has received donations of reusable bags it plans to supply to stores and residents at no cost.
The Ventnor Green Team has said it is seeking grant funds to purchase and distribute additional bags.
Breece also had concerns about how the ordinance would be enforced, specifically if the number of complaints became too high.
Stores must post signs making customers aware of the fee, and receipts must show the fee was charged, the ordinance states.
If violations continue after an initial written warning, a store will receive a $100 fine per violation, the ordinance states.
The director of public works is designated as the official who should be notified by citizens who believe a violation exists.
Officials in the zoning office and Police Department also are authorized to issue a summons or warning.
“We’re not doing it to fine people and drag them into municipal court during the week. I think the enforcement piece is not something we would concentrate on,” Holtzman said. “It’s to change the culture and have people use the reusable bags and make this part of New Jersey more green.”
Commissioner Tim Kriebel said he had reasons why the board should not adopt the ordinance.
“If you take it by the letter of the law and take it to the strictness with which it’s written, it could be perceived as business-hostile in some ways, and those are my biggest concerns,” he said.
However, Kriebel said the city’s responsibility to protect the coastal environment and its opportunity to showcase change “tipped the scale” for him.
“Ventnor in a lot of ways is frozen in time with our ordinances, our policies and a lot of its thinking. We have a unique opportunity to layer this on top of some other things that we have ... that could make the brand of Ventnor a more progressive brand,” he said.
Coffey thanked the Board of Commissioners for “taking this leap of faith.” She said the city is positioned at the forefront of an important issue.
“We have put a lot of work in to get to this point,” Kwart said. “I’m grateful that they have finally passed it, and I think it will really start to make an impact in the community.”
The ordinance requires a six-month education period before it goes into effect Oct. 1.
During this time, the Ventnor Green Team and the Surfrider Foundation will establish an outreach program to educate residents and store owners on reusable bags.
Mary Leningham, a Ventnor resident and a member of the Green Team of Brigantine, said she thinks the adjustment will be manageable.
“It is something that I think all of us can train ourselves into doing. Giving the city and giving members of the community a six-month period to adjust to using reusable bags I think is a nice window of time,” she said.