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Meeting on eliminating single-use plastics draws crowd in Lambertville

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The age of plastic may be coming to an end.

A cross-section of about 75 residents, elected officials, environmental commission members and other enthusiasts gathered in the 1812 conference center of the Lambertville House on July 23 to review plastic pollution initiatives.

Through brief presentations, a panel discussion and a breakout session, attendees identified the problem that single-use plastics have become and what is being done to fight that problem.

The Association of New Jersey Environmental Commissions (ANJEC), which is celebrating its 50th year, is committed to “helping communities across New Jersey make good decisions for your environment,” according to Executive Director Jennifer Coffey.

Coffey said that if we continue to use single-use plastics, by 2050 there would be “more plastics than fish in our oceans.” She noted that 65 of New Jersey’s 565 municipalities have passed plastic ordinances.

Lambertville Councilwoman Elaine Warner said the city passed its single-use plastic ban last September. It is being phased in over time and will take effect in January.

“We are committed to reducing waste and championing the environment,” Warner said.

Liz Magill-Peer, Lambertville’s environmental chairperson, said she was able to secure a $20,000 Sustainable Jersey Grant for the Ditching Disposables program.

Lambertville’s project was developed to support the ordinance adopted last September 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.

Lambertville also plans to celebrate those local businesses that “most exemplify” the goals of a greener city with the Sustainable Business Awards.

Perhaps one of those businesses is Lambertville Trading Company, a cafe, coffee and tea shop at 43 Bridge St., owned by Dean and Lisa Stevens.

Dean Stevens participated in the panel discussion along with Magill-Peer and Rep. Verlina Reynolds-Jackson (NJ-15).

Eliminating single-use plastics is “a real cost savings [for businesses],” Stevens said. He said he was saving money not buying single-use supplies but didn’t say exactly how much he was saving.

Stevens said he found the path to sustainability to be a trial and error process. He said replacing plastic straws with paper ones did not work because the paper wouldn’t work after it got wet. Reusable metal straws are more effective. Eliminating the use of straws altogether works as well.

He said his goal has been trying to keep waste out of the garbage stream. A few things he has been doing is donating unsold daily pastries to churches for senior citizen luncheons and having someone pick up “15,000 to 18,000 pounds” of “very heavy wet coffee grinds” and deliver it to a local farm.

“Composting has kind of taken over for recycling right now,” he said. “We’re just choking as a world,” he continued. “Education is the key for all of this.”

“You start small,” Reynolds-Jackson said. “You can build momentum from there.” She mentioned a number of state bills, A4430, A3494, A4715 and A4040, which deal with various aspects of a plastic ban.

“The unfortunate part is that none of these bills have been posted to committee yet,” Reynolds-Jackson said. She suggested residents call their representatives and let them know they support these bills.

Although conventional wisdom might suggest that state officials lead the effort to ban single-use plastics, ANJEC officials said the change needs to first happen on the local level to prove that it can be done and the measure is working.

Reynolds-Jackson said as more towns pass a ban on single-use plastic, state legislators will have to notice and be forced to act instead of being influenced by lobbyists who are against the bans.

There are “chains of communities working together,” Dini Checko, ANJEC’s project director, said.

For the grassroots effort to succeed, Checko said communities must work regionally.

“Starting locally is the priority,” Checko said. She added that Lambertville has one of the strongest plastic ordinances in the state.
Magill-Peer said Lambertville is open to helping other municipalities with drafting their ordinances.

Organizers hope this event will inspire “as many towns as possible” to pass local plastics ordinances, including those on the Pennsylvania side of the Delaware River.

“This is the first event of this kind in our area and we hope there will be more events like it in the future,” Magill-Peer said.

As part of that effort, city environmental officials sponsored a Sustainable Business Forum as an educational measure for those affected by the future plastics ban that was scheduled for Wednesday, July 31.

Checko said this was the organization’s third regional plastics roundtable and networking event and all three have drawn between 75 and 100 people.

ANJEC is a nonprofit organization. For information, visit anjec.org.

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