Within the past week, an ordinance addressing the ban on single-use plastic bags, put forth by the Montclair Environmental Commission (MEC) was released. Under the proposed ordinance, the MEC is attempting to limit the use of plastic bags that do not comply with certain criteria. The proposed ordinance is now looking to require that all bags, in order to be used by retailers, have a minimum life-span of 125 uses, have the ability to carry up to 22 pounds, and if the bag is plastic, it must be at least 2.25 mils thick except the ordnance contradictory calls for all bags to be compostable, plastic is not.
While climate change looms as a pressing topic, the introduction of the plastic bag ban does not come as a surprise. However, the details, timing, and application of the ordinance are raising questions of transparency.
The proposed ordinance, as released, is a poor sophomoric stand in for an actual ordinance, if this ban does make it through the Montclair council. It is unclear at this point if the proposed ordinance was written by Counselor Sean Spiller or the Environmental Commission, but is it confusing, contradictory and surely would be challenged if not amended.
The bag ban ordinance asks retailers to limit their use of plastic, while also requiring stores to charge their customers 10 cents for every bag they provide. The ordinance also demands that businesses include a line item on every receipt detailing the 10 cent charge for the bags. Further, the plastic bag ban is predominantly targeting small businesses. Large corporate retailers located in Montclair such as CVS, ACME, and Kings are specifically exempted from the ban. This is angering many small business owners, as the stores which release the largest amount of plastic bags are not affected by this ban in the slightest. In turn, independent retailers, which produce a minuscule amount of plastic in comparison to the aforementioned corporate giants, will lose a portion of their profits while adjusting to this ban.
The Township of Montclair and the Environmental Commission have been careful and have cleverly chosen who they target with this ban. Targeting larger corporate bag retailers carries a high probability of being sued, small business owners have neither the time or resources to mount a legal challenge.
Additionally July and August have historically been the preferred time to slip an ordinance into the books as most of Montclair’s concerned citizens are either out of town for the summer or otherwise engaged.
Jennifer Brown, The Executive Director of The Montclair Center Business Improvement District, The BID, has informed The Montclair Dispatch that the Board has not taken an official position on the proposed plastic bag ban, The Montclair BID was formed specifically to support the business owners, property owners and residents of the Business Improvement District and is funded by a mandatory tax on the property owners to the tune of $500,000.00 per year. Ms. Brown informed us that members of the board of directors who were present during the discussion about the draft proposal were generally favorable to the concept.
Jennifer Brown as Executive Director of The BID, she is required to meet with her constituents and advocate on their behalf.
Recently The Montclair Dispatch delivered a copy of the draft language of the proposed ordinance to ban plastic bags to some of the Montclair Center BID business members and asked for feedback on the ordinance.
The Montclair Dispatch spoke with Nancy Garvin, owner of Montclair Farms, located on Bloomfield Ave. Nancy believes that the toxicity of plastic in the town’s environment is a “hot button issue,” and should certainly be addressed. With that being said, she also believes that with the issuing of this proposed ordinance, “the BID needs to be willing to hear what people have to say. There needs to be a compromise that takes everyone into consideration, especially with such a serious issue.” Nancy continued to say that if the public more thoroughly understands a topic, they will be more willing to take the extra steps that are necessary to make a change like this possible.
Essentially, Nancy passionately thinks that “plastic bags are a blight on our landscape. But, everyone needs to have the opportunity for their voices and thoughts on the topic to be heard.”
The Montclair Dispatch also spoke with Ralph Alberto, the owner of Fume cigar shop, also located on Bloomfield Ave. When I gave Alberto a copy of the ordinance, it was the first time he had read the document. He said that “no one had been in contact with him,” and that there was not nearly enough communication between the BID and their business owners.
Similar sentiments were expressed by Julio Valentin, owner of Greenleaf’s Eclectic Cafe. Valentin knew nothing about the ordinance, as he heard about it through friends and fellow business owners. He simply wishes that he was more informed, as this is certainly a complex and technical piece of legislation.
Valentin went on to say that his issue is not with limiting plastic. “We have eliminated plastic straws, and limited our plastic use by 15-20 percent in the last year.” However, he also stated that no one from the BID was in contact with him in regards to this law, or its drafting.
Jennifer Brown, in regards to the ordinance and subsequent council meeting, stated that “the BID Board has not taken an official position on the proposed ban, but members of the board who were present during the discussion about the draft proposal were generally favorable to the concept. Recently we sent the draft language out to the Montclair Center BID members and asked for feedback on the ordinance, and also encouraged members to attend the MEC meeting where it would be discussed should they wish to speak about the proposal. We received very few direct responses back to the draft ordinance when we sent it out.”
“We just sent out another notification [yesterday], advising Montclair Center business owners about the Council agenda item tomorrow night.”
“Certainly we understand that this ordinance could impact small businesses in Montclair Center, and in particular there are questions surrounding the specifics of the implementation and the lead time that businesses would have to comply, this is why we’ve been sending out information to the members about the proposal so that they can provide feedback and comments (positive or negative) as the proposal moves through the process.”
On June 25th, at 7 PM, the Single-Use Plastic Bag Ban Ordinance will be a vibrant topic of discussion during the Tuesday town-council meeting. The agenda for this meeting that be found here.
There is certainly more to come from this story.
See the proposed ordinance here.