CRANFORD, NJ — The township appears set to become the 17th municipality in New Jersey to bar commercial establishments from distributing single-use plastic utensils and bags under an ordinance introduced at the governing council’s meeting Tuesday, July 9.
All five members — four Democrats and one Republican — voted at the meeting to introduce the measure after it was amended to include an exemption that customers could request a plastic lid on coffee cups.
The next scheduled meeting of the committee is Tuesday, Aug. 13.
The only dissenting voice during the 15-minute discussion on the ordinance came from committee member Tom Hannen.
“There are other ways to approach this,” he said. “I think there is a way we can encourage people to move in the direction of recycling and not using those items that wind up in a landfill. But I think we do that by encouraging people.”
However, after Deputy Mayor Ann Dooley conceded and introduced the exemption for coffee cup lids, Hannen voted with his fellow committee members.
The ordinance states that by July 1, 2020, “no retail establishment shall provide, with or without a fee, any single-use” polystyrene carry-out containers, plastic utensils, plastic carry-out containers, plastic straws or stirrers, or point-of-sale plastic carry-out bags.
An exception to the utensils ban is that if the purchased item is to be delivered or taken off the premises, the establishment may ask if the customer wants plastic utensils, at which point they can be included.
Other exceptions include wide-diameter plastic straws for thick drink items such as milkshakes, flavored granulated ice drinks like Slurpees.
The prohibition on the single-use plastic items would not apply to “for sale” items at retail establishments such as Dollar General or Walgreens in town, township attorney Ryan Cooper said in a July 19 phone interview with LocalSource. However, those establishments are subject to a single-use bag that might be provided at check-out, he said.
Following Dooley’s motion to introduce the ordinance, which acknowledged a group from Walnut Avenue School, Hannen addressed the proposed ordinance by prefacing his comments with the statement: “I’m about to make a lot of people unhappy with me this evening, but I ask you bear with me for a while.”
Hannen used several props — a Styrofoam cup from Dunkin’ Donuts, a paper cup from Starbucks with a plastic lid, a plastic 7-Eleven Slurpee cup and a Dairy Queen Blizzard cup with a plastic spoon, without mentioning any of the stores by name — during an approximately five-minute argument that suggested his disagreement with the ordinance.
“This is not being against plastic bags not being used, but the technical way the ordinance is written causes problems for future,” he said.
He wondered about safety issues if polystyrene cups and plastic lids were banned, saying, “I’m not sure that there is an appropriate alternative to keep people from burning themselves if they’re going to take a carry-out container,” he said.
He also questioned the penalties for violating the ordinance, noting that the fines for violations could reach $1,000, while the maximum fine for possessing drug paraphernalia is half that amount.
After Hannen had finished speaking, Dooley responded quickly with a six-minute address, chiding of her colleague by saying, “Great show and tell. It really would have been great to have had that discussion some time over the last two months when it’s been before us.”
She continued by saying the $1,000 fine already exists under current ordinances for recycling violations.
“This is Cranford,” she said. “While there are teeth in ordinance, the jaw is rarely, if ever, clenched. Cranford’s culture is to work with our partners and businesses for solutions.”
She cited a list of reasons for the ordinance, from recycling markets for plastics and cardboard collapsing, to human ingestion of particulate plastic. She also noted that the New Jersey Legislature is considering a similar ban.
“If towns like us don’t do this, who will?” she asked during her concluding remarks.