EAST BRUNSWICK–With the Township of East Brunswick seeking to reduce the usage of plastic bags and straws, residents can voice their input by filling out a survey.
East Brunswick is looking to join communities in New Jersey –and throughout the world –to eliminate the use of single-use plastic bags and plastic straws, according to information provided by the township.
Mayor Brad Cohen said this initiative is one of those things where it was a combination of separate events that all happened at the same time.
“There is a large interest on the part of the East Brunswick Environmental Commission … to do things in town that recognize the need to be good stewards of the earth,” Cohen said. “So they put together a subcommittee which we call the Sustainability Committee. Their goal is to help make sure they meet as many of the goals that are required from Sustainable Jersey, which is a state-sponsored program.”
As part of the Sustainable Jersey program, Cohen said the township receives different award levels based on the number of environmentally-friendly habits that are followed.
“Right now, we sit at a silver status and I had asked the Environmental Commission and the Sustainability Committee to try to see what we could do to move ourselves up and achieve more points and do things that are environmentally-friendly,” Cohen said. “One of the areas that they keep talking about is this idea about banning plastic bags, educating the public and that is where the whole thing got started from.”
This initiative received an extra jolt, Cohen said, after he received a letter from a few fifth grade students at Warnsdorfer Elementary School, stating that they were upset their school was not implementing environmental procedures they were learning about in school to help reduce their carbon footprint.
“So when I got the letter I visited the kids and asked them to be involved in the Sustainability Committee and that of course was all in conjunction with this general move in many towns, Highland Park being one and Paramus the most recent, to ban single-use plastic bags,” Cohen said.
Due to all these different factors, Cohen said he thinks the committee hit the gas pedal on the initiative once it started seeing that besides trying to meet the requirements of Sustainable Jersey there was actually more of a movement within the town to do something.
“[It was] almost like a call of arms by the fact that the kids were recognizing the need to do something,” Cohen said. “After all, this is what it’s all about which is putting together a plan that allows us to take care of the earth in a way that our children will be proud of us.”
The East Brunswick administration is working on an ordinance to reduce the use of disposable plastic such as shopping bags and straws. Residents’ answers will be shared with the mayor and Sustainability Task Force.
Cohen said the answers will be collected on Sept. 22.
Once the data from the survey is collected, Cohen said the next thing will be for the township to look at different ordinances that are already in effect in different towns in and outside of New Jersey. The township will seek to model an ordinance that will be the easiest to implement, does not place a huge burden on the businesses in the township, and will model what the township anticipates the state is looking to put forward.
Cohen explained that once an ordinance is chosen, the Township Council will have to vote to adopt it, ultimately changing the township code.
Cohen said he believes that once enough municipalities have approved ordinances of their own, the state will need to put its own in place.
“We need to address the business community, which we intend to do. We will have meetings with the business, they will all be invited to the Community Arts Center, we just have to pick a date and a time. We have to really discuss a plan with them so that they are part of the process of putting an ordnance together and [so] that it doesn’t come out as something that is punitive. We want them to be partners in doing the right thing.”
Cohen said there will be a period of time where businesses will have an opportunity to transition into no longer providing single-use plastic bags and straws to their customers. For most towns, once the ordinance is adopted by the governing body, businesses usually get a six-month period to transition and abide by the new ordinance.
“The take-home message is that there is no perfect answer to this. Switching from single-use plastic bags to going to just using paper bags isn’t a savings to the environment. Paper bags are heavier to cart, they end up in landfills, you lose a lot of trees in the process, so it’s not an environmentally optimal option either,” Cohen said. “The answer is that we need to go to more reusable products and businesses will have the opportunity to gear-up and sell some of those products. Likely, we are going to have a booth during East Brunswick Day and we will be giving out reusable bags.”
For more information or to access the survey, visit tinyurl.com/EB-Plastic-Ban.
Contact Vashti Harris at email@example.com.