Somers Point Council Proposes Fee on Plastic Bags to Protect Environment

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Somers Point Council hopes to reduce some plastic bag waste in the waterways with a proposed ordinance that would impose a fee on the bags at stores. (Courtesy Patcong Creek Foundation)

By Maddy Vitale

A diamondback terrapin chokes to death on a plastic bag. Marine life eats the single use bag and it becomes lodged in their stomachs.

Plastic bags are not environmentally friendly and pose a danger to marine line, Somers Point Councilman Ron Meischker, who is also the city’s Harbormaster said Thursday.

“You see plastic bags everywhere, but when you find a diamondback terrapin that is dead because it was choking on a plastic bag or a marine life thinking it is another form of marine life, it is just dangerous,” he said.

With Somers Point being bordered by the Great Egg Harbor Bay to the south and east and the Patcong Creek on the west, Meischker said it is imperative that the city does more to clean up the environment and make the waterways safe.

His goal is for the city to adopt an ordinance he spent months creating, designed to deter the public from using plastic bags and opt for reusable ones or paper bags for their shopping needs.

The proposed ordinance, introduced Thursday night at the Somers Point Council meeting, would impose a 5 cent fee for each bag taken at any “covered” business, such as a food store.

The fees for using plastic, rather than paper bags or reusable bags, would be retained by the store, Meischker, who created the Patcong Creek Foundation, explained.

Before possible adoption of the ordinance, the council would hold a public hearing. If adopted, there would be a six month education period in which signage would specify the fee at all the applicable businesses.

Other towns, including Ventnor, have similar ordinances in place and Meischker said the majority of council is in favor of his measure.

“Our aim is to educate the public and work with supermarket chains and stores. We would like to partner up with the city’s Environmental Commission, to make the reusable bags available to seniors and those on a fixed income,” he said.

Environmentally conscious residents work throughout the year to clean up litter at Patcong Creek and other areas of Somers Point. (Courtesy Patcong Creek Foundation)

Council President Sean McGuigan said before the meeting that he is in favor of part of the ordinance, but not the imposition of a fee.

“Every time I go to the beach and I see a loose piece of trash, I dispense of it properly. If everyone did that there wouldn’t be a problem,” McGuigan said. “I will formulate my opinion, but as I sit here today, while it raises awareness, it is basically a tax and I don’t think this is something that the businesses want to do, and there will be a real cost of having to do it.”

Mayor Jack Glasser agreed with McGuigan that there might be some objection by the retail industry, but he supports the ordinance.

“You couldn’t believe how many plastic bags are floating around when we do our cleanups,” he said. “These one-time plastic bags really are a danger to the fish and wildlife. It is just time we take extra steps to curtail this. Even though there will be some objections in the retail industry, we have to start thinking beyond the dollar and what is good for the environment.”

According to information in the proposed ordinance, single use bags end up on beaches and dunes and in fragile waterways.

Clean Ocean Action’s annual beach sweep data reports are used to study debris trends over time and have found plastic shopping bags consistently rank in the “dirty dozen” for the top 12 litter items picked up during the bi-annual beach sweeps.

The second reading of the ordinance is scheduled for the next City Council meeting at 7 p.m. June 28.

Plastic bags is one of the top pieces of debris found by environmental groups. (Courtesy Patcong Creek Foundation)