Plastic Bag Ban Tops Sustainability Changes in Collingswood Green Ordinance Package


The borough government will introduce a bevy of new ‘green’ rules changes ahead of its annual sustainable New Jersey review.

By Matt Skoufalos | September 3, 2019

Collingswood Borough Hall. Credit: Matt Skoufalos.

The Collingswood municipal government is set to roll out a comprehensive package of ordinances intended to enhance local sustainability practices in the borough.

Among the proposed changes on its September 3 meeting agenda are: a ban on single-use plastic bags, prohibitions of public smoking/vaping and vehicle idling, twice-a-week limits on watering lawns, and regulations on the intensity of outdoor lighting.

There’s also support for the statewide wildlife action plan, for sustainable building practices and land use regulations, a “complete streets” policy, and even the designation of a borough “creative team” to enhance its public and performing arts capacities.

The collection reflects a number of action items on the Sustainable Jersey checklist, compliance with which would entitle Collingswood to apply for future grant funding. It’s also the culmination of months of work from the Collingswood Green Team, a group of environmental volunteers who helped shape and inform the measures on the docket.

Collingswood Green Team Coordinator Sandi Kelly said the policies coalesced amid a re-examination of the borough master plan. The incorporation of sustainability-focused building controls and land use management will help provide a blueprint for future redevelopment and building practices. Enacting the measures before its upcoming recertification review also gives Collingswood a chance to earn its Sustainable Jersey silver certification.

Collingswood Farmers Market Lending Library bag. Credit: Tricia Burrough.

“Most of those things are best practices recommended by Sustainable Jersey,” Kelly said.

“It’s culminating a lot of work from Green Team members, borough officials, and businesses.”

The biggest change on the table is the single-use plastic bag ban, a move for which the borough Green Team has advocated since introducing alternative bagging strategies at the Collingswood Farmers Market a few years ago.

The hybrid ordinance outlaws businesses from offering single-use plastic bags by April 15, 2020, but encourages them to transition there immediately, with support from the Green Team and the borough.

Instead, the ordinance mandates that businesses offer reusable bags, or charge at least a dime for recyclable paper carryout bags. There are exemptions for plastic bags used to contain damp products or to prevent cross-contamination of purchases, and similar applications. Trash bags, dry cleaning and newspaper bags, prescription bags, yard waste and food storage bags also are exempted from the ban.

The ordinance was written after studying similar ordinances throughout the state and elsewhere in the country, Kelly said. Its gradual phase-in and clear exemptions are designed to help shoppers and businesses stick with the change.

“A straight-out ban of plastic isn’t good, because if you have an uptick in paper bag usage, that has an impact on the environment as well,” she said.

“Really what we’re trying to do is change the consumer behavior into not using a bag or bringing in reusable bags,” Kelly said. “We’re doing a lot of outreach in trying to assist them to transition to the role.”

Brett Wilcox (in yellow) and his son David push their jogging stroller through Collingswood. Credit: Matt Skoufalos.

Collingswood Community Development Coordinator Cass Duffey said the borough Business Improvement District (BID) is holding continuing conversations about how to ease the changeover in the local shopping district.

“A lot of consumers and residents are very much in favor of a plastic bag ban, but there are really big implications as a business owner,” Duffey said.

“Many really are already on board; there are others that may be relying on plastic more, and so it’s a gradual implementation.”

The BID might support the transition by subsidizing the purchase of reusable bags, but moreover by helping change consumer behavior.

“We all want the environment to be better, but everything takes time,” Duffey said. “We want to get as close to bagless as possible. Part of that gradual change is the cultural change among consumers, residents, and guests.”

Duffey said the changes advocated for by the borough Green Team “are the kinds of things that seem like low-hanging fruit,” but which can be overlooked in the day-to-day business of governing a community.

“These ordinances and resolutions really put in place the keys to start long-term implementing sustainable things,” she said. “We have to look at what’s the green way of doing this because it’s the law. It’s a very serious commitment to doing these things, and not just in a photo-op kind of way.”

Collingswood Mayor Jim Maley said smaller businesses will eventually make the pivot, but that he’s begun conversations with franchises like Wawa and Primo Hoagies “that have already gone through it” in other bag-banning communities.

“Places are adjusting,” Maley said. “I don’t think anybody’s denying that it’s a smart and good thing to do, but it’s going to take some time to get people adjusted.”

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