This summer, I learned that West Windsor has been discussing a plastic bag ordinance for over a year in its Environmental Commission. This ordinance would encourage the community to prioritize re-use and reduction of bag use over recycling by banning single-use plastic bags.
The fact that this ordinance has not moved forward into general discussion by the town worries me. In talking to people of all age groups and backgrounds about the environment, the far-ranging effects of good environmental policies are largely ignored, including the substantial economic benefits that these policies bring with them.
In terms of recycling, single-use plastic bags present two problems. First, these bags run the risk of jamming up machines in facilities, adding thousands of dollars per month in labor costs to unclog them. Second, and most importantly, most facilities do not recycle the type of plastic that these bags are made from. It is imperative to keep in mind that single-use plastic bags are contaminants in a recycling bin, just as much as food or laptop batteries are.
When asked what the main problems holding back recycling in the area are, our county’s director of environmental programs, Daniel Napoleon, gave a concise answer: “contamination of material.”
Mercer County’s contract costs for recycling collection went up by 40 percent as a result of new restrictive recycling importation policies from Eastern countries. The solution? Make our recycling streams more pure by moving forward with the ban while simultaneously encouraging reusable bag usage. Not only will the percentage of recyclable materials increase, the output will be easier to sell, saving the town money.
But in the end, this isn’t about the money. It’s about the environment.
Littered plastic bags harm animal life and pollute the nature around us. It is estimated that emissions from plastic will climb to 17 percent of the global carbon budget (the total amount of carbon dioxide emissions worldwide) by 2050.
Plastic bags are a large portion of plastic products in use today. They are described as the “number one consumer product” by National Geographic; with 32,000-160,000 bags being used every second, a plastic bag ban would greatly reduce the predicted 17 percent portion of the carbon budget.
My fellow classmates and I who have signed on to this letter will inherit this planet’s future. In 2050, when the world will know whether it has succeeded in red ucing the forecasted 17 percent or not, we will be around 45 years old.
Along with the rest of the students in this municipality, we will hopefully still have half of a long and fruitful life to live. And it is the choices that are made today that will determine whether our surroundings will consist of waste yards—or forests and gardens. It is the choices that are made today that will affect us—your children and grandchildren—for decades to come. Changes on a global scale are required. But we can and must start with local action from municipalities like ours.
Please consider the drastic benefits— both present and future, economic and environmental—that this ordinance would provide and come out to support it at future Environmental Commission and council meetings.
Narayanan is president of the South Environmental Club and Saravanan is the president of the club at North.
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Over the past year, the West Windsor Environmental Commission has taken up the topic of what to do to reduce the use of single-use plastic bags in our Township. According to Clean Water Action New Jersey, Americans dispose of 100 billion plastic bags a year; and over four billion of them are used and disposed of in New Jersey.
Packaging waste (mainly from plastics) accounts for 30% of American household trash and is on the rise. It’s polluting the marine environment at a runaway pace—80% of ocean litter comes from land-based sources. If we continue on this trajectory of global plastic production and consumption, there will be more plastic in the ocean by weight than fish by 2050.
At a recent West Windsor Environmental Commission meeting, Jennifer Coffey, Executive Director of the ANJEC, talked about the real cost of using single-use plastic bags: residents in error believe that single-use plastic bags, which are made from petroleum products, can be recycled. They cannot and often end up impairing the sorting machines used at recycling centers. This is part of a larger problem: due to sheer volume, recycling markets in China, Vietnam and Indonesia are now closed to American and other companies that seek to send their allegedly “recyclable” material to markets that once accepted them.
So the best proactive practice is to reduce our use of plastic. This has the added benefit of reducing our reliance on fossil fuels, since plastic bags are made from petroleum. Our State Legislature has been considering a bill to ban the use of single-use plastic bags and paper bags (also a source of waste); however, the Legislature is in a deadlock.
In the face of inaction at the State level, over thirty New Jersey towns and municipalities have adopted local ordinances.
In West Windsor, over the past several months, many of our local businesses—like our grocery stores and restaurants—have been informed of, and are prepared for, the plastic bag ordinance under consideration.
In fact, Trader Joe’s is phasing out the use of single-use plastic bags at point of sale, and Wegman’s is pledged to do the phase-out by the end of this month. Some local merchants have offered to donate reusable bags to Township residents when our Council acts to adopt an ordinance. At the same time, the ordinance will have a long phase-in period so businesses and residents alike can adjust to the new rules.
The time for action is now. Let’s do this, West Windsor!
Please note, the following West Windsor Township residents join us in affirming the contents of this letter: Randi Kronthal Sacco (former Commissioner, West Windsor Environmental Commission); Sylvia Kay; Sudi Solomon; David Chait; Kristin Epstein; and Amanda Chait.
Wahrman is a member of the West Windsor Environmental Commission, and Rosen is a former member.