A plastic bag ban introduced and pushed by the Montclair Environmental Commission has passed its first hearing. Well on its way to becoming law, Montclair merchants are still unaware of the implications of the legislation and the changes it will bring.
On Tuesday, June 25th, both the town council and town residents alike began a preliminary conversation regarding the proposed single-use plastic bag ordinance. Montclair citizens exercised their civil duties by voicing their support for the ordinance, while also raising certain questions over the complex and nuanced legislation.
Many residents emphasized the need for the ordinance as an environmental and a moral issue. But it was continuously articulated throughout the meeting that this ordinance cannot be partial, and in order to make an adequate change, policies must be complete. Clean ocean and water activists and residents agreed that aspects of the proposed law need to be modified, but this was a step in the right direction.
After the council officially read the ordinance for the first time, thereby starting the 42 day clock on the new law, and before they adjourned to a closed session, a representative of the Upper Montclair Business Association (UMBA), Holly Felber, owner of Barbara Eclectic women’s boutique, voiced the concerns of the UMBA. It was reiterated that the UMBA fully supports a ban on single-use plastic bags. However, it was stated that the creation of the ordinance does not address the complex process of the implementation of the ban, and how it would affect small business owners.
The document states that in order for a bag to be deemed as reusable, it must be able to be used 125 times, and hold up to 22 pounds. But, Ms. Felber explained that the majority of the stores under the UMBA do not sell items that are nearly 22 pounds, leaving this ordinance inapplicable to their respective businesses. Holly Felber reiterated that once again, she and her fellow UMBA members support the ban on single-use plastic, but much more clarification and revision is needed before the law can go into effect in Montclair.
The sentiment of Holly Felber’s statement on behalf of the UMBA to the town council was echoed by small business owner Scott Kennedy, a co-owner of the Studio042 printing company on Bloomfield Ave, and one of the founders of the Business Improvement District (BID). Mr. Kennedy explained that business owners in Montclair operate with the goal of remaining efficient while supporting the environment.
However, Scott Kennedy believes that “Surrounding this ordinance, the small business owners of Montclair are not being properly represented. The town council has not taken a proper assessment of our needs, and the BID and its Executive Director, Jennifer Brown has been shirking its duty by failing to properly represent the BID members. There was simply not enough community involvement in the crafting of this legislation. This ordinance is a carbon copy of similar legislation proposed in other towns across New Jersey, but it is not tailored to Montclair’s needs. The Environmental Commission, headed by Catherine Outlaw and Lyle Landon, is looking to push this [law] through during the quiet summer months when most business owners are away and unable to voice concerns.”
Small business owners have also expressed issue with a lack of a grandfather clause that addresses the large quantity of bags in which business owners have already purchased, yet, do not comply with the material standards of the bag outlined in the ordinance. This point was also emphasized by business owners who are concerned with the rushed nature of the legislation, as it does not provide enough time for businesses to reorganize and edit their practices in order to adhere to the ordinance. With the threat of a $500.00 per day fine for a third violation for non compliance, this ordinance could easily wipe out a whole day’s sales or a month’s profits in one fine.
Scott Kennedy further explained that, “the first reading of this ordinance was premature, and was done without proper public survey. The town council was negligent in their work with the BID and business owners. The council members whose wards reside within the Center BID’s district are Renee Baskerville and Sean Spiller. Ms. Baskerville and Mr. Spiller serve on the Board of Directors of the BID. However, those councilors did not spend enough time working with the BID in order to properly represent their business owners.”
In reference to Mr. Kennedy’s point, the record of attendance of members of the BID Board of Directors at board meetings is published on the BID’s website. In the past twelve months, both Councilwoman Baskerville and Councilman Spiller were collectively present at one meeting. And only one of these two councilors was present at three of the past twelve board meetings.
Due to the complex nature of the bag ban ordinance, as well as the confusion and lack of communication that has seeped into the crafting of the legislation, business owners are encouraged to lead the charge in communicating with the Environmental Commission, in order to make sure their needs are heard and addressed. Montclair residents and small business owners are encouraged to attend the Montclair Environmental Commission’s July 10th meeting and the town council meeting at the end of the month.
The single-use plastic bag ordinance will receive a second hearing on July 23rd, in which a more lengthy discussion over the proposed law will take place.