By Chris Rotolo |
MONMOUTH BEACH – It was standing room only on Tuesday at a town meeting where nearly 50 residents and local environmental leaders came to witness a small town pass bold legislation prohibiting single-use plastics.
In the borough bordered by the Atlantic Ocean and the Shrewsbury River, fines of $2,500 will be levied for any restaurant, business or store that provides a customer a single-use plastic bag, foam carryout container or plastic straw at the check stand, cash register or any other point of sale or departure.
The ordinance, which will go into effect on June 1, was approved by Mayor Sue Howard and borough commissioners Jim Cunniff and Dave Stickle following a public hearing at which nobody objected.
“People may view this as just a small step by a small town that can’t possibly make much of an impact, but there was that guy about 50 years ago who spoke about taking ‘one small step for man,’ and that proved to be pretty significant,” Commissioner Jim Cunniff said, referencing NASA’s 1969 moon landing. “Somebody has to start it. Why not us?”
The ordinance offers two exceptions to the rule: single-use plastic bags may be used by stores to sell fishing bait and for dry cleaning pickups.
Trent Hodges, the Plastic Pollution Manager for the Surfrider Foundation, referred to the ordinance as a dynamic and extensive piece of legislation.
“We’re finding across the country that towns like Monmouth Beach are stepping up and passing really strong ordinances. And I wanted to point specifically to the fact that including polystyrene foam, straws and plastic bags makes this quite a comprehensive ordinance,” said Hodges. “Looking at other places across the country, I think this is a really progressive ordinance and I applaud you for that.”
According to Howard, the process that led Monmouth Beach to this moment was spearheaded by borough resident Brian Thompson, the newest addition to the municipality’s environmental commission.
“I had asked Brian to join the commission about a year ago and he graciously accepted. To have this accomplishment I think speaks to his dedication and hard work, as well as the dedication and ef for t of all of our commission members,” Howard said.
Thompson pointed to the exact moment he and the commission decided to take a more drastic and reformist approach to the topic of single-use plastics, recalling a discussion of a “plastic bag fee” in the borough.
“Originally there was going to be a bag fee and someone said, ‘why don’t we just ban bags altogether?’ And quite simply we just decided to do that instead,” Thomson said.
“There’s no question that this is progressive and the commission absolutely felt like we were breaking new ground here,” said Thompson. “It was mentioned many times that this ordinance could be a beacon for other communities to follow. There will probably be some pushback along the way, but the longest journeys begin with a first step, and we’ve taken a significant one tonight.”
Thompson said he hopes communities like Middletown, Atlantic Highlands, Highlands, Sea Bright and Long Branch will follow Monmouth Beach’s lead.
Kathleen Gasienica, the American Littoral Society’s board president, hopes her hometown of Red Bank will make the push to do away with single-use plastics.
“Not only is Monmouth Beach improving the health of its environment and its residents, but it is improving the health of people all over New Jersey,” said Gasienica. “But most importantly, this town has taken on a leadership role. This is huge. I can say, as a representative from Red Bank, we would love to pass an ordinance like this over there. And we’re going to be using Monmouth Beach’s example.”
This movement against the use of single-use plastics has recently picked up steam locally after Clean Ocean Action (COA) released its Beach Sweeps report in April, an annual study on the debris and litter collected by organization volunteers at more than 60 locations around the state.
In 2017, COA picked up 373,686 pieces of debris, with nearly 85 percent of the items collected being plastic or foam-based plastics.
“These beach sweeps are a snapshot of what’s going on at our beaches and because of them we’re able to provide evidence of this issue with plastic,” said COA Executive Director Cindy Zipf. “Plastic has really become a plague for our planet and it takes all of us to really focus on changing our habits. It takes leaders like those in Monmouth Beach to set the bar and help facilitate change.”
This article was first published in the May 24-31, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.
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