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“Ditching Disposals” meeting focuses on plastics

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It’s not easy being green.

Several dozen people turned out on a damp and breezy evening Feb.13 in Lambertville, N.J., to discuss cutting down on single-use plastics.

Liz Magill-Peer, Lambertville’s Environmental Commission chairperson, spoke and answered questions for about an hour about what Lambertville and other area municipalities and organizations are doing about reducing reliance on single-use plastics.

“It’s really a global issue now with the reduction of recycling,” Magill-Peer said. “It impacts our entire ecosystem.”

Lambertville’s Ditching Disposables project was developed to support the ordinance adopted in September 2018 limiting the use of single-use plastic bags, plastic straws, polystyrene foam and Styrofoam containers by city businesses. The Ditching Disposables initiative seeks to help educate residents via education, communication, workshops, and certifications. That ordinance went into effect Jan. 1.

Magill-Peer was able to secure a $20,000 Sustainable Jersey Grant to help kick off the Ditching Disposables program.

For more than a year, Magill-Peer, city officials and other volunteers have held workshops and seminars, even going door to door to raise awareness.

“People were so enthusiastic about what we were doing,” she said.

Since the measure has finally become law, Magill-Peer said city officials are still discussing enforcement strategies although the law has largely been embraced.

“It’s important have support from the mayor and city officials.”

The CVS Store stopped providing plastic bags as soon as the law took effect at the beginning of the year.

She said that several businesses have created bag trees where customers can take a reusable bag if they forgot one and return it later, or leave an extra bag.

Magill-Peer said the move away from single-use plastics can come as a shock after several generations of use. “Folks are grumpy for a month and then they forget about it.”

Officials are still discussing an enforcement strategy for noncompliance. “It’s something that we are looking at in Lambertville,” she said. “It’s a complicated process.”

Another informational session about the single-use plastic ban ordinance has been scheduled for March 12 in Lambertville.

“We’re really lucky that a lot of businesses were ahead of the curve on this.”

Stockton, N.J., Councilman Michael Mann said his borough recently passed a single-use plastic ban but did not immediately elaborate on its parameters.

Magill-Peer said seven or eight other municipalities have asked her for support in designing single-use plastic ban initiatives including Solebury Township and New Hope.

That work in Pennsylvania was surprisingly halted when Gov. Tom Wolf signed legislation last year prohibiting Pennsylvania’s government entities from taxing or banning the sale or distribution of plastic bags and other containers, wrappings and bags.

The legislation was a small budget-related amendment that was part of a much larger bill.

The provision enacted a moratorium on single-use plastic bans for one year while legislative agencies study the economic and environmental impact.

“They didn’t believe it would have an impact,” Magill-Peer said of the moratorium.

Pennsylvania’s Independent Fiscal Office and Legislative Budget and Finance Committee will issue reports on the economic and environmental impacts of such regulation. Those reports are due July 1.

Following an audience question, Magill-Peer said that she was not aware if Lambertville’s water supply has been tested for microplastics.

Microplastics – degraded from larger fragments – are increasingly becoming a public health concern. Scientists have found microplastics to be pervasive in the environment and in humans and animals, showing up near the ocean floor and in the atmosphere.

She said based on what she has heard from attending environmental seminars that addressed the topic, there is “no technology available” for testing yet.


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