VENTNOR – The carryout bag ordinance has been on the books since February, but enforcement was delayed six months to get the public used to the idea. Oct. 1 was the first day for enforcement of Ventnor’s single-use bag fee ordinance adopted on Feb. 22.
The ordinance requires shop owners to charge a nickel for a single-use bag provided to a customer, which could be paper or plastic. Downbeach.com has learned that the city’s largest retail store, the Acme market on Wellington Avenue is currently not charging for single-use bags.
“I talked to the Acme folks as a shopper,” city Administrator Maria Mento said Wednesday afternoon. “The store manager said they just got all new cash registers and they still need to be programmed.”
When we called the Acme for comment, the store manager referred our reporter to the corporate office. A staffer there said she would contact a regional manager, but our call was not returned by the time of this writing.
“We’re going to give them the week,” Mento said. “The Code Enforcement Officer will be there first thing on Monday (Oct. 22).”
Instead of charging the fee, the CVS store on Dorset Avenue has been distributing “reusable” bags to their customers that exceed 2.25 mils, which the thickness of plastic film the ordinance recites as being suitable for reuse.
CVS store Manager Pat Lawlor said cashiers have been giving away the bags and telling customers to bring it back the next time they shop CVS.
“Corporate sent us reusable bags made of polyurethane that are reusable,” Lawlor said.
He said the store has “plenty” of them, but he is unsure if the store will start charging the 5-cents free when they run out.
“More information will be forthcoming from corporate,” he said.
Reusable bags are defined as being made of fabric or plastic at least 2.25 mils thick, according to the ordinance.
Wawa has been charging for the bags and informing shoppers of the fee.
Lori Colaianni of the Ventnor Business Association, who frequents the Rite Aid store on Ventnor Avenue, said store clerks have been diligent informing shoppers of the fee, “and some shoppers are foregoing the bag if they just have a few things,” she said.
“People have to be willing to change their habits,” Colaianni said. “I used to shop at Whole Foods, so I have been carrying reusable bags for a long time. Whole Foods is so pro-reusable bag, that they make you feel embarrassed if you do take a plastic bag.”
She said the Rite Aid store has a kiosk of reusable bags near the register.
“So, you can buy one for a dollar and use it all the time,” she said.
Surfrider Foundation South Jersey Chapter Chairwoman and Ventnor Green Team member Beth Kwart, who advocated for the ordinance, said she had a causal conversation with an Acme store clerk who indicated it is too difficult to count the number of bags being used when someone has a large order.
“But it seems like its working in smaller, mom and pop stores,” she said. “In the stores where they are charging and following the rules, they are doing what the ordinance intended – educating the public.”
She said she spoke with the owners of the Plaza Discount Liquor store, who said they have not received any backlash from customers, which was what they were expecting.
“They have boxes available, and it seems to be working well there,” Kwart said. “They are educating their customers about being responsible and protecting the environment.”
Stores that do not comply with the ordinance will receive a warning notice for the first offense, but subsequent violations include a $100 fine for each occurrence, Mento said.
Store owners are required to issue the customer a receipt showing the 5-cents charge for each single-use bag taken. Failing to charge or show the fee on a receipt in a high-volume store could result in hefty fines by the end of the day, she said.
The ordinance was adopted with the goal of protecting the city’s coastal resources, to comply with the national Clean Water Act, reduce the amount of plastic and paper material that winds up in landfills, and reduce litter in the city and its waterways.
Resident Catherine Van Duyne said the ordinance is “critical” for a coastal town with lots of sensitive wildlife.
“It makes you have a little incentive to remember your bags. It’s not an incentive or a punishment, just a tool to serve to remind people of the significant problem in our community and to do something, anything about it,” she said in a Facebook post.
Resident Larry Pacentrilli said he is against the ordinance.
“I understand the need to keep such bags out of the oceans and off the sides of our streets where many end up sitting until I or other concerned citizens pick them up. But that is a littering problem caused by a small percentage of people who just don’t care.”
High fines for littering might be more appropriate, he said.
“The vast majority of folks reuse or recycle the plastic bags, which are less costly and more practical than most other types of bags,” he said. “We don’t need new laws that punish the majority of good citizens and store owners in order to prevent the few misfits from misusing the plastic bags. More public awareness campaigns and enforcement of tougher littering laws would be a better solution.”
Kwart said after conducting a six-month educational campaign that included billboard advertising, supplying stores with signage about the fee, and distributing reusable bags, the main message to be gleaned from the ordinance is to “bring your own bag,” she said.
“Refuse to take single-use bags, bring your own reusable bag and recycle plastic bags if you have to,” she said.
The ordinance affects all stores, except for dine-in food service establishments. Exempt bags include those used to transport bulk foods, meat or seafood or those that hold prescription medicines.
Shoppers on public assistance do not have to pay the fee.