Newtown Township Supervisors voted 4-1 this month to advertise a single-use plastics ordinance for a Dec. 6 vote.
The ordinance would ban the use of single-use plastic bags and other single-use plastic items in the township.
This includes Styrofoam food containers, single-use plastic straws and plastic utensils, except when required for food safety. There will be some exceptions should the plastics ban go into effect, including the allowance of plastic bags to pack perishable items including fruits, vegetables, and candy.
The plastics ordinance has been in the works for several years, beginning in 2018 but was halted due to the pandemic. The township environmental advisory committee has put many hours into helping craft the new guidelines for Newtown.
All but Supervisor Kyle Davis supported advertising the ordinance and moving forward with the process. Supervisor Elen Snyder, who serves as the liaison to the environmental advisory committee, fully supports the proposed plastics ordinance.
“This gives a chance for the public to see exactly what’s in it. The ordinance is very simple, we’re starting with the basics and it’s a good first step for Newtown Township,” she said.
If and when the ordinance is approved, there will be a grace period of 120 days before it goes into effect. That means April 2024 is when the ordinance would begin to be enforced.
Township officials said this clause is provided in an effort to “ramp up” the public for the new policy while allowing businesses to exhaust their inventories of single-use plastic bags and switch to reusable bags.
The proposed ordinance also includes a provision allowing businesses up to a one-year exemption from the plastics ban if a legitimate reason and necessary documentation are provided. The exemptions would be considered on a case-by-case basis by the environmental advisory committee.
Those that don’t comply will receive written warnings for a first offense. A second offense would carry a civil penalty of $50. A third would generate a $100-fine. For a fourth and any subsequent offenses, a $200 fine would be assessed.
Supervisor Phil Calabro inquired if the ordinance specifically indicated after the first warning that exemptions could be applied for if a business had a large amount of single-use plastic bags in inventory that they’d like to exhaust before switching over to reusable bags.
While the current iteration of the ordinance includes a section about applying for exemptions, it is not specified in the section about first, second, and subsequent offenses. So the board agreed to amend the ordinance to include Calabro’s suggestion and advertise it with the amended section specified.
Chairman Dennis Fisher agreed with Calabro’s proposed amendment, asking that the board approve advertisement of the ordinance to move the process forward. Some residents who attended the meeting also weighed in on the topic.
“I was reading an article that said there’d be a charge of 10 cents per (reusable) paper bag. Who arrived at this amount and will that be advertised along with when you’re doing this plastic ordinance advertising to the public?” asked resident Fran Hower, of Newtown Grant.
Township Solicitor David Sander responded by reading a section of the proposed ordinance that specifies that businesses may provide their customers with recyclable paper bags for a charge of no less than 10 cents per bag.
“Businesses are allowed to charge 10 cents a bag to their customers and are encouraged to do so. That is the standard in the nation, in cities, and in the townships that have passed this ordinance. We all are using the same terms and language to achieve the same thing,” explained Snyder.
“What we are doing is encouraging, we want people to bring in their own bags, that’s the whole idea. But for giving out paper bags, there will be a standard, and it will have to be a recyclable paper bag and 95% of the businesses in Newtown Township already do that.”
With that, the board voted to advertise the proposed ordinance. Supervisors Snyder, Calabro, Fisher, and John Mack voted in favor while Davis voted against.