An ordinance to prohibit the use of single-use plastic bags passed in its first reading at the Township Council meeting held on June 25. During the public comment on the ordinance earlier in the evening, several activists spoke in favor of passing it.
Maura Toomey, a local resident who works for Clean Water Action, a statewide environmental non-profit organization, spoke in support of the plastic bag ordinance proposed by the council.
“New Jersey is moving towards one of the strongest statewide policies on single use plastics in the country,” Toomey said. “We’re not going to get there until we see more towns building the support at the local level. That’s why it’s really important to see towns like Montclair working towards getting more of these ordinances passed.”
She added that the goal of the policy is to create the widespread habit change that was needed.
“We are all probably aware of what the issues are, whether it’s environmental justice, ocean pollution, climate issue – this plastic pollution issue really encompasses all of these, and so there needs to be a systematic change and it starts with consumer and producer habit changes.”
Toomey emphasized that reuse over throwing away things needs to be highlighted so the true cost of waste and the value of reuse is recognized in our economy.
“Local ordinances are step one in order to achieve that, so I’m definitely in support of seeing Montclair pass that, but also it’s important to make sure it’s done completely because when some of these policies are passed only partially, they can have unintended consequences whether it’s on businesses or even on the environment. The bans on single use plastics with the fees on paper bags really are the best proven solutions to any of these issues that come up.”
Eileen Birmingham, another resident, also spoke in favor of the ordinance, accompanied by friends, neighbors and children holding signs they drew themselves for the ban of single use plastic bags.
“We’re here in strong support of the ordinance to restrict the use of single use plastic bags,” Birmingham said. “I think that the issues as were stated are well known – it is an environmental issue, it is a moral issue, and we can no longer sustain our current habits.”
Birmingham reflected on growing up during a time before plastic bags “were even a thing.” She said paper bags were used in the stores and it had worked well.
“I hope you will consider and support the ordinance before you today,” she added. “I will thank in advance the council and the mayor and also the business owners of Montclair who I know will be going through an adjustment but I think we can all agree that this will be a positive step for Montclair and we look forward to voting and restricting the use of single use plastics.”
Zack Karvelas, also a local resident, is an activist for the Montclair Chapter of Clean Ocean Action, a national environmental organization. He spoke to advocate for the ordinance, stating he was very happy that the Township is choosing to address the issue and by dong so is joining a long list of towns that have done so.
Karvelas added that the state of New Jersey has “taken some time to act and he feels it has given the power to local towns to do something about the issue.” He also said the move is a great, strong step, especially with the fee on paper bags because it decreases single use and disposable use.
“I really urge the town to look for different ways to continue to walk along the path of sustainability, conservation and protecting our environment for future generations to come,” Karvelas said, adding that other items such as plastic straws and styrofoam were also in need of addressing.
The Clean Ocean Action organization helps clean up beaches with more than 10,000 volunteers, Karvellas said. Those volunteers have collected data that has helped towards the creation of ordinances such as Montclair’s.
Councilwoman Robin Schlager said she would be voting in favor of the ordinance because she feels it’s the right thing to do long-term for the environment.
“I am of the belief that we are a forward-thinking town, but I also look forward to the hearing prior to the vote when it’s held at the council meeting on July 23,” Schlager said. “I want to hear firsthand from the small business owners their thoughts on the proposed ban.”
A public hearing and vote on the ordinance by council members is scheduled for Tuesday, July 23 at 7 p.m.