Business owners speak out on plastic bag ban
BY KELLY NICHOLAIDES
for Montclair Local
A group of merchants from the Upper Montclair Business Association are concerned that an ordinance currently being drafted on a single-use plastic bag ban could hurt their small businesses.
Shop and boutique owners told the Montclair Environmental Commission on June 12 that it could cost up to $10,000 to change their accounting systems in order to meet a requirement showing charges for reusable bags on receipts. They also took issue with charging customers 10-25 cents for paper and other reusable bags.
Holly Felber, owner of Barbara Eclectic women’s clothing and accessories boutique on Valley Road uses custom purple paper and plastic bags. She’s not sure if the plastic is 2.25 millimeters thick, as required to be reusable. She is not against a plastic bag ban, she said, but feels some logistical aspects have not been considered in the ordinance. The proposed requirement for both reusable cloth or plastic is to hold at least 22 pounds and get 125 uses. Those are unrealistic expectations for stores like hers, Felber said.
“The specifics on bags and their size and weight are not in the dimensions any of us would even use. I order my bags 10,000 at a time and use thousands during sidewalk sales,” said Felber at the meeting.
Furthermore she doesn’t want to nickel and dime her customers over bags.
“Some customers come in and buy six or seven presents. They want separate bags for each, which I label for them,” she said.
She is also concerned with having a line item on invoices showing she charges for paper bags. “Can a municipality come in and ask me to show receipts?” she asked.
The Montclair township council is expected to introduce the single-use plastics ban ordinance at their next meeting next week.
The ban would require merchants to provide reusable plastic for 10 to 25 cents, upon customer request. The purchase must be reflected in receipts. Businesses have the option of providing customers with a credit for bringing their own reusable bags.
Owners can request an exemption from the ban of which the decision would be made by a council committee. Exemptions would come with a $100 fee.
The ban would not apply to bags used for laundry and dry cleaning; flowers and potted plants; bulk item produce bags; candles or small hardware items; bags that contain or wrap frozen foods, meat or fish; bakery goods; pharmacy prescription bags; newspaper bags; pet waste bags; door hanger bags; and bags sold in packages containing multiple bags.
Violations could result in fines of $100, $200 and $500 for first, second, and third violations, respectively.
Jennifer Snyder of the Little Daisy Bake Shop on Valley Road said she just ordered 10,000 paper bags and 25,000 plastic. MEC co-chair Lyle Landon said that a ban could take months to go into effect and reminded her of the exemption.
Lyle noted that charging for paper is a deterrent meant to make the customer ecologically minded.
Women’s clothing store owner Susanne Neckermann of Susanne N. on Bellevue Avenue said she understands why a ban can work for chain stores and supermarkets.
“I get it for places like CVS, Kings, and Acme, but we don’t give out 500 bags a day. This [charging for paper bags] comes across as petty,” said Neckermann.
“The Montclair Environmental Commission’s first step before a plastics ban proposal was to go to the business community for input. We wanted to make it as easy as possible,” Landon said.
The Montclair BID did not return a request for comment on input from the business community.
Lyle questioned why the group would feel their customers may be upset about paying for paper. “Is this a rich privilege thing?” Landon asked.
Gray Russell, the environmental commission’s liaison to the council, said the ban is meant to get people to switch to reusable bags, rather than to paper bags, which leave a large carbon footprint from production to use.
“We don’t want customers to switch from plastic to paper. We’re trying to get away from that,” Russell said. “Canada just banned plastic and it’s already banned in the European Union. The plastics [environmental] issue is not a little thing. It’s a catastrophe.”
Approximately 26 municipalities in New Jersey have bans on single-use plastic bags. The crinkly scourge ends up littering landscapes and killing an estimated 100,000 marine animals annually. Montclair stopped short of banning plastic straws in the draft ordinance modeled after Hoboken’s. Twenty Jersey Shore towns have passed ordinances to reduce plastic pollution including balloons, straws and Styrofoam.
Business owner Amy South of Moss and More on Bellevue Avenue said she relies on plastics for customers to transport plants.
“I have a ton of people who come in for gifts and they want them packaged. I have a lot of plastic pots that are hard to get rid of as it is,” South said.
Deputy Mayor Sean Spiller said the town is still receiving input before introducing an ordinance and that changes could be made prior to adoption.
“The goal is to have public hearings to hear your comments and concerns. There may be provisions [in the ordinance] to address,” Spiller said. “This is the type of meeting where you get input.”
Under the draft ordinance, the township will assist retail establishments by referring them to associations, unions and other resources to create educational materials on the benefits of reusable bags rather than recyclable paper, and locate wholesale sources for purchase.