To the Editor:
Princeton has begun to recycle plastic bags and other used plastics. Bravo! McCaffrey’s has collected more than 800,000 bags, or about 200 pounds of plastic bags, since Aug. 1. I applaud the coalition of McCaffrey’s with Sustainable Princeton and the Princeton Merchants Association that has made this success possible.
But the only fully responsible aim must be a substantial pre-consumer reduction of single-use plastic bags. Post-consumer recycling cannot curb the toxic manufacture of plastics. Carbons and methane released into the atmosphere contribute to dangerous climate change. Recycled bags simply become plastic wood, temporarily saved from landfills. Merchants must also strive to reduce pre-consumer use of single-use paper bags (think of deforestation, flooding).
The coalition’s voluntary program(“Ask First,” “Bring Your Own Bag” should immediately promote an agreement among all Princeton merchants to reduce the number of single-use bags, both plastic and paper, that are distributed to customers—i.e., reduce consumption. The coalition should devise a method of measuring the reductions achieved. The method should immediately be publicized and a schedule for making periodic announcements of progress should be announced.
I propose that the coalition announce its numbers every six months, at a minimum, in April and October of 2016. A program without measurements is effectually non-existent; accountability to the Princeton is mandatory. Without measurement and accountability, no program can be responsibly evaluated. Obviously, Princetonians need to know the merchants’ baseline for measurements.
Many people know that voluntary programs to reduce consumption of single-use bags have failed. Increasing bag-recycling is relatively easy. Municipalities, states, countries around the world have passed laws or ordinances to achieve reduction — most recently Britain, following Ireland and Wales, and in New Jersey, Longport—the first, but not the last in our state. By the way, did you know it takes twice as long to drive from downtown Princeton to Wegman’s, Whole Foods, or ShopRite than it does to McCaffrey’s?
The Longport ordinance, which imposes a ten-cent fee per bag tocustomers who forget to bring their own, is similar to the one drafted by Princeton citizens four years ago—but still not put on the Princeton Council agenda. In February, 2015, Mayor Lempert authorized the expenditure of taxpayer funds for Princeton’s legal counsel to vet the draft ordinance; the resulting memorandum indicates that the ordinance, possibly modified, would be legal in New Jersey. Longport has now set the precedent.
I propose that, in fairness, we all assist the coalition’s voluntary program in proving its adequacy for a year from inception. If pre-consumer plastic reduction of at least 50% is not achieved by next October, the mayor should put the draft ordinance on the Princeton Council agenda, public input should be solicited, and a working group to achieve a satisfactory draft ordinance should be established. As the November 2016 elections approach, all candidates should make public their views on the ordinance.
No man is an island. Princeton, like every community, is responsible to the world.
Daniel A. Harris