CRANFORD, NJ — The Township Committee adopted a ban on single-use plastics at its Aug. 13 meeting, voting 4-1 despite objections from several business owners regarding the cost and compliance date.
Tom Hannen, the township’s commissioner of building and zoning, was the only committee member to offer any criticism of the ordinance when it was introduced at the July 9 meeting; he was the lone vote against the ordinance, which makes Cranford the 17th town in New Jersey to enact the plastic bag prohibition.
“We all want to get to the same goal, but the penalties associated with are onerous as far as I’m concerned,” said Hannen, who spoke after the public comment portion of the meeting. “We have better things to do with people than go through people’s garbage. All the businesses that were here tonight want to comply … Let’s not make it onerous on them.”
The ordinance gives businesses until July 2020 to halt distributing certain items, “unless first requested by the customer.” Those items include single use plastic carry-out bags, single-use plastic utensils, plastic straws and stirrers, and plastic cups, including lids. The exceptions include if a customer requests a plastic hot or cold lids, certain types of recyclable containers, such as plastics No. 1 and 2, and wide straws. The exceptions were specified due to the nature of some of the items, such as thick milk shakes and ice cream products that would not be consumable with a regular width straw.
While the ordinance does not require a fine, businesses could face up to $1,000 for violations, the maximum under the current recycling ordinance fee.
Cranford joins other New Jersey municipalities, such as Maplewood, whose ban on single-use plastic bags went into effect July 1. Garfield also banned single-use plastic bags and plastic-straws, and Saddlebrook adopted an ordinance that bans single-use plastic bags.
The ordinance, developed with the Cranford Green Team, an extension of the Cranford Environmental Commission, makes reference to plastics as a public health hazard and economic burden, and was championed by its proponents, including Deputy Mayor Ann Dooley, who introduced it at the July meeting.
Several business owners took to the floor at the meeting to criticize the action, calling it impractical.
“I am a small business owner. I represent some business owners in town. We are asking for more time. … The technology is not there yet,” said Raffi Nimrud, the owner of Old City Cafe and Grill on Union Avenue, who suggested an extension of two to three years to make the full transition to the ban.
After the meeting, Nimrud told LocalSource: “I speak up for businesses in Cranford. No one from the Green Team came to us and approached us. … We are what is left of the American dream.” When asked how the town should responsibly make the transition away from plastics, he responded, “There’s a way to do things gradually. When the technology is out there and it’s cheap and handy, we switch. They are going to be abused even from the wholesalers. The best thing is, give us two to three years.”
Those sentiments were echoed by Anthony Anjello, owner of Pastosa Ravioli on South Avenue East in Cranford.
“Who doesn’t want a better environment? I know that I do for my children and their children, but I also want to be practical,” he said.
While Anjello supports the plastics ban for environmental reasons, he said he is concerned that costly alternatives to plastic will be a financial burden for his business.
Mayor Patrick Giblin thanked the business owners for their concerns and stated that he didn’t want this ordinance to be punitive for them.
Supporters of the ordinance, such as Dooley, have emphasized the environmental urgency, arguing that plastic garbage is an environmental hazard, especially plastic waste in oceans and streams.
Dooley said she understands business owners want more time to comply. “I completely understand that. But when you’re talking about 12 million bags a day going into the waste stream, every day matters.”
Many residents had concerns about the $1,000 fine, which Commissioner Mary O’Connor, the only Republican on the five-member Township Committee, addressed.
“As many of you know, I support this ordinance.” she said. “The fine, I think, is excessive. I would like to see a tiered approach, something a little less burdensome. I would like to see the recycling coordinator put the enforcement plan together. How are businesses going to be inspected? It’s not substantive as far as the ban on plastics, it’s more about how we as a town are going to handle this as we move forward.”