After a break covering town meetings for decades, I visited the Montclair council chambers last night to learn more about the efforts of the township Environmental Commission to pass timely ordinances aimed at banning plastic bags and much more.
The Environmental Commission has been working on this issue for about 8 months, with the goal of stopping single use plastic bags in stores in town.
On hand to discuss the initiatives this engaging council is working on were residents, store owners and the person who made sure I attended: my daughter, a high school senior committed to protecting people from dangerous chemicals found in styrofoam.
Though the environmental commissioners are a small group who volunteer, make no mistake: along with Montclair’s Sustainability Officer Gray Russell, this team packs a mighty and eco-friendly punch. At this meeting, members offered clear, well-researched and calm information and engaged with everyone in the audience who had questions or issues.
At the meeting, two like-minded strangers with a common mission of keeping Montclair "clean" inspired the attendees and commission.
Nicol Sobczyk, who founded Clean Montclair, explained how she came to become involved in helping clean local parks and waterways along with volunteers. Armed with a lively Instagram Account, "Clean Montclair, Sobczyk called out to residents to join her in picking up trash last Earth Day.
Like a Green Pied Piper for Montclair residents, she not only organized a 20-person all volunteer Earth Day clean up of a local park, but also included successfully a welcome free coffee perk from Montclair Bread and a free pizza meal from Ruthie's BBQ after their work was done.
Her idea, she said, grew out of the friendiness of local residents as she tried to clean up litter in town.
"I would be walking around Montclair and as I walked my dog, I would pick up trash," said Sobczyk. "People would stop me and ask "what are you doing?" and "how can I be involved?".
Now, this grass roots group is growing.
Following the Clean Montclair info, high student Alexa Martins addressed the audience and commission and also handed out fact sheets about her "Project Styrofoam" (see below article for a copy).
Her goal, she said, is to make sure styrofoam is banned from school food trucks and elsewhere in town.
"Based on research and other scientific findings, the usage of polystyrene (EPS) food containers at the Montclair High School food trucks and in Montclair is a threat to people’s health and the environment," she said.
Martins explained she loved the food trucks lining up outside Montclair High daily, and that most kids purchase their lunch there.
"Even when partially decayed, polystyrene easily permeates human tissue and the blood stream; long-term exposure to styrene can cause acute and chronic health issues for both the central and peripheral nervous systems,
Benzene causes cancer, acute myeloid leukemia and aplastic anemia," said Martins.
As luck would have it, the Environmental Commission noted they are actually adding the ban of polystyrene as well to their recommendations to the town council.
Along with the pubic comments from residents, numerous retailers were on hand to discuss ideas as to how to implement the single use plastic bag ban in town while also encouraging people to use reusable bags while shopping, as the commission stressed is vital to the success of the suggested ordinance.
The robust back-and-forth respectful conversations for those in attendance was a local reminder that as a nation, our democracy is founded upon a healthy back-and-forth of different ideas. As I have seen for over 20 years, Montclair is filled to the brim with people offering different persectives - and they always welcome to share them to the local government for consideration and debate.
If you have not been to a meeting of the Environmental Commission, I promise you will not be bored but instead, feel inspired by the healthy open forum of ideas and community care. After a long commute to and from Queens for my work, I promise you this was something that energized me with hope and optimisim on many levels.
CLICK HERE TO VISIT THE ENVIRONMENTAL COMMISSION PAGE.
Check out Clean Montclair on Instagram and learn how to get involved.
Here is the Fact Sheet created by MHS senior Alexa Martins
for Project Stryofoam.
Project Styrofoam Facts Sheet:
Based on research and other scientific findings, the usage of polystyrene (EPS) food containers at the Montclair High School food trucks and in Montclair is a threat to people’s health and the environment.
When exposed to warm, cool, oily or acidic foods/drinks, polystyrene decays into styrene and benzene
Benzene is classified as carcinogenic by the World Health Organization; styrene is classified is likely carcinogenic
Nearly all food served at the Montclair High School food trucks are warm, hot, oily and/or acidic; all food is served in polystyrene containers
Even when partially decayed, polystyrene easily permeates human tissue and the blood stream; long-term exposure to styrene can cause acute and chronic health issues for both the central and peripheral nervous systems
Benzene causes cancer, acute myeloid leukemia and aplastic anemia
Recent evidence has shown that styrene, while classified as “likely carcinogenic” instead of “carcinogenic,” doubles the risk of developing myeloid leukemia; this is a behavior it shares with benzene
Takes up 500 years or more to decay; when it does decay, the resulting styrene damages the environment
18% of all total costs for litter/landfill cleanup is solely due to polystyrene products
Is created using CO2 and petroleum, both of which highly damage the environment and are leading causes in the persistence of contemporary climate change
Is expensive to recycle and environmentally compensate for due to being non-biodegradable and porous
When burned for disposal or for fuel, polystyrene releases its styrene and benzene into the air, making both airborne and causing health issues in animals and people