VENTNOR – While state legislation to ban plastic bags, straws and polystyrene packaging advances in the New Jersey Senate, Ventnor is ready to impose a 5-cent fee on paper and plastic bags starting Oct. 1.
A NJ Senate Committee advanced Senate bill S-2776 for a vote by the full Senate Thursday afternoon, just hours before Ventnor commissioners heard from a local environmental advocate about a campaign to educate the public about the 5-cent paper and plastic bag fee store owners will be required to charge starting Monday, Oct. 1.
A previous bill putting a 5-cent statewide fee on both paper and plastic bags passed both houses of the legislature in late June, but Gov. Phil Murphy never signed it. One cent of that fee would have gone to the merchant, and the remaining four cents would be put into a state fund designed to remove lead paint from older housing.
Ventnor’s ordinance imposes a 5-cent fee on carryout paper, plastic and “reusable” plastic bags with a thicker millage. The fee will be charged at the checkout counter in all stores, except dine-in restaurants, and be retained by the store owner. Shoppers on public assistance will not be charged the fee.
Ventnor was the second municipality in Atlantic County to impose a bag fee. Longport imposed a 10-cents fee in 2016. The Atlantic County Board of Chosen Freeholders has since banned plastic bags and straws at county parks effective one year from enacting the legislation.
Surfrider Foundation South Jersey Chapter Chairwoman and Ventnor Green Team member Beth Kwart explained what the green team has done since the ordinance passed to educate the public and store owners about the fee.
The green team received a $10,000 Sustainable Jersey grant to conduct the educational campaign, about half of which funded billboard advertising on the highly-traveled Black Horse Pike, Rt. 322 which leads into Atlantic City and the West End/Wellington Avenue corridor.
Kwart said shoppers are getting the message and many are already bringing reusable bags to the market.
“Most people have reusable bags in their cars. Now they just need to bring them into the store,” Kwart said in an interview on Monday.
Kwart said she was delighted to see shoppers bring reusable bags to the Ventnor City Farmers Market, where market managers provided a basket filled with reusable bags to be used in case someone forgot to bring their own.
Kwart said, if enacted, the state law would supersede Ventnor’s ordinance, and eliminate the need for store owners to collect the fee.
Commissioner Lance Landgraf said the city has not received any complaints from shop owners about the fee.
“I’m happy to have it move forward,” he said about the city’s ordinance. “I hope it has a positive impact on the marine environment.”
However, Landgraf said he would prefer to see the state ban plastic bags completely.
“I think it’s the first step in changing the daily lives of people for the better,” Mayor Beth Holtzman said in a telephone interview. “We did receive some pushback, but we did what we could for future generations.”
Kwart said the issue received “far-reaching” media coverage when the ordinance was adopted. The educational campaign included sending information about the ordinance out with utility bills, showing the documentary “A Plastic Ocean” in the city schools, setting up a display at the Atlantic County Library/Ventnor, tabling weekly at the summertime farmers market, meeting with the Ventnor Business Association. Community groups also joined in the educational effort by distributing their own reusable bags to the community.
The green team is currently distributing signage to shop owners informing their shoppers about the city ordinance.
The campaign will continue in the coming weeks, she said. The mayor will be sending a letter to all mercantile license holders, signs will be posted at all stores, and the Public Works Department will install metal signs in area parking lots reminding shoppers to bring their bags into the store, she said.
Kwart said the grant also paid to purchase 1,000 reusable bags that will be available for residents at the Tax Office at City Hall.
More will be done to educate summer residents and visitors in advance of the 2019 summer season, she said.