Homegrown Campaign To Ban Plastic Bags in Little Silver

March 24, 2017
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In Alaska, Jennifer Borenius and her four sons Jack(17),
Shane (14), Kyle (11) and Nate (7). Photo courtesy of Borenius family.

By Jenna O’Donnell

LITTLE SILVER – A quest to reduce waste in Little Silver started with a trip to Alaska last spring. While exploring the region with her family, Jennifer Borenius met many local Alaskans who, upon learning she was from the East Coast, shared an urgent message.

“I had three or four people tell me, ‘Go back and tell everyone near you that climate change is real,’” said Borenius, a Little Silver resident. Alaskans are feeling the effects of climate change more than most, and many have a front-row seat to the early snow melts, mass wildlife die-offs and changes in hibernation and migration patterns that have occurred there in recent years.

“Things are happening so fast there. They are in it,” Borenius said. “I came back home and asked myself what I could do to do more than I’m doing? How can I get the word out?”

She found a possible answer in an approach already in use in California, China, India, Europe and towns and cities across the country: a plastic bag ban.

Though it might seem like a trivial response to climate change, Borenius sees a ban or fee on plastic bags as a starting place that will help people to rethink the amount of waste they create. An average American family takes home nearly 1,500 plastic shopping bags in a year, according to the National Resources Defense Council, an environmental group. Most of those bags end up as permanent fixtures in landfills and waterways, or as eyesores blowing around local towns.

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“To me, the plastic bag just raises awareness of all the single use disposable items we use,” Borenius said. “My premise on this was for Little Silver to make a statement about who we want to be. We all live in this beautiful coastal community. If we say this is not acceptable here, other towns may be inspired to do the same thing, too. It has to start somewhere and what we’ve been doing isn’t enough.”

Hoping to influence local government to pass an ordinance to ban or place a fee on plastic bag use, Borenius went to her borough council and was directed to the Environmental Commission. Since then she has been working with the commission to build community support, starting a Moveon.org petition for a measure that would ban plastic bags in the borough. Last year she helped arrange for a screening of the 2010 documentary “Bag It”, which brings awareness to the over use of plastic bags, for borough officials and members of the community. More recently, Borenius and a newly formed committee supporting the plastic bag ordinance have been working to involve the borough’s local business owners in the process.

Borenius acknowledges that it’s nearly impossible to live plastic-free and that no one wants to be made to feel bad. She jokes that she will be the person in the grocery store that other people run away from. But she hopes that if shoppers have to consider paying a small fee for a plastic bag, they will think about not using one at all. Similar plastic bag fees and bans in other towns and cities have proven to significantly reduce waste.

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A 5-cent plastic bag fee was considered by state lawmakers last year but has since stalled. Borenius hopes that her own community can do better and that maybe the idea will spread.

“Let’s have a public conversation about it,” Borenius said. “Let’s bring it to a place where we have awareness and move forward intelligently. We need to stop making excuses as to why not. Let’s figure out the why and how.”

For borough residents looking to add their support to a plastic bag ban, the Moveon.org petition is still live and accepting signatures. As of Wednesday, 158 had signed. A committee meeting at borough hall to discuss next steps is scheduled for 1 p.m. Monday, March 20. The public is invited to attend.

This article was first published in the March 16-23, 2017 print edition of The Two River Times.

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