Longport ties a price tag on plastic bags

LONGPORT A tiny Absecon Island town on Friday became the first New Jersey municipality to impose a fee on those ubiquitous throwaway bags that stores and restaurants typically offer customers for free.

Lovely little Longport - with less than two square miles; fewer than 900 people; and just three commercial establishments, two of which are restaurants - will impose the 10-cent fee on each single-use plastic or paper bag they provide.

Given Longport's size and lack of big, bag-generating businesses such as supermarkets or convenience stores, the borough's ordinance "is largely symbolic," said Monica Coffey, who chairs the Sustainable Margate organization.

"It's not a ban on bags," she explained. "It's a deterrent, or let's say, an incentive, for people to bring their own bags."

That's why Coffey and representatives of other green groups were busy celebrating Friday.

"Because of Longport, the sky will not fall and other towns are going to see that it's no big deal, despite the gloom and doom the plastic-bag industry puts out there," said John Weber, a Bradley Beach resident who heads up the mid-Atlantic regional chapter of the clean ocean advocacy group the Surfrider Foundation.

"Even though this ordinance is not going to take millions of bags out of the waste stream, Longport residents and visitors will think twice [about single-use bags] when they go other places," said Beth Kwart, a Ventnor resident who heads up the foundation's South Jersey chapter.

"It's really about sensitization to the issues of plastic," Kwart adds. "It will help people form better habits and remember to bring their own bags."

Although a news release quoted Longport Mayor Nick Russo describing the ordinance as "a step to ensuring that the town as we know it will be here for our children's children and beyond," not everyone was quite as thrilled.

Matt Rooney, who's blogged about the plastic bag issue at SaveJersey.com, said New Jerseyans "need another tax hike like they need a hole in their heads. Or [in their] shopping bags."

- Kevin Riordan