Lambertville Leads in Ditching Disposables

(Panelists l to r - N. Dini Checko, Liz Magill Peer, Verlina Reynolds-Jackson, Dean Stephens. Photo by Donna Liu.)

(Panelists l to r - N. Dini Checko, Liz Magill Peer, Verlina Reynolds-Jackson, Dean Stephens. Photo by Donna Liu.)

People go to Lambertville for a lot of reasons:  the quaint downtown, the walks along the Delaware, the restaurants. But last Tuesday night, a group of environmental commissioners, town officials, and sustainability advocates were there for a different reason: Lambertville is in many ways a model of how to do sustainability at the local level. 

  • Lambertville was quick: just two months after introducing a comprehensive ordinance banning single-use plastic bags, straws and polystyrene foam, it was passed in September last year. At the moment, enforcement is purely voluntary. The ban has the force of law beginning in January 2020.

  • They were early: Lambertville Environmental Commission Chair Liz Magill Peer says the town was the first in NJ to adopt a food waste ordinance.

  • They are pioneering: with grant funding, Lambertville got the go-ahead for a campaign they are calling “Ditching Disposables”, which combines their experience into a teachable moment for any community who wants to do the same. 

“We are lucky to have residents who are eager and excited about our programming. Our environmental team embraces the community organizing aspect of what we do,” explained Magill Peer, who made it a point to also highlight the importance of buy-in from the local business community. 

She cited some examples of the “Ditching Disposables” initiative, including a fun event to turn shirts into reusable tote bags; a sustainable business forum with vendors who sell eco-alternatives to common plastic utensils like cups and straws; a door-to-door campaign to give out and promote reusable bags; a series of public lectures and ordinance information sessions; and developing a certification program for local businesses who go green.

This was a perfect illustration of the point made at the opening of the forum by N. Dini Checko, Project Director for ANJEC (The Association of New Jersey Environmental Commissions), which hosted the event: “Starting locally and building awareness is a priority. Environmental commissions and green teams are willing to share their resources so others don’t have to reinvent the wheel.”  

Also on the panel was Dean Stephens, owner of the Lambertville Trading Company, a big proponent of sustainable practices in local businesses such as his. “The best thing we can do is keep waste out of the garbage stream,” Stephens said. In the case of his business, that required some creative solutions, such as freezing unsold bagels and muffins to donate to a local church for free lunches, and finding farmers to take away the roughly 15,000 lbs of wet coffee grinds his store generates every year. As for the cups and straws? “We are battling manufacturers,” Stephen admits, “They don’t want to retool because they are dealing with such mass volume. Starbucks alone uses seven billion cups a year.”

On the legislative side, NJ Assemblywoman Verlina Reynolds-Jackson noted that there are a few bills working their way up through the state legislature: A4330 is the most ambitious, with a proposal for a ban on single-use bags, expanded polystyrene, and plastic straws. “But if you can’t get it all at once, you have to split it up.” And so there is also A4394 for just straws; A4040 for just single-use plastic bags; and A4715 to create a Plastic Pollution Task Force. “Unfortunately none have been posted in committee yet so they haven’t been heard. Talk about local support – you can build the momentum.” Reynolds-Jackson advised this audience.

Jennifer Coffey, ANJEC’s Executive Director, chimed in: “Action at the local level is THE most important thing you can do now.  We’re all working together on this issue.”

Donna LiuComment