By Maura Toomey—North Jersey's New ReThink Disposable Organizer.
I'm so excited to start a new position as the new North Jersey organizer for Clean Water Action’s Rethink Disposable program. I want to mention that I’m a canvasser too. If you live in North Jersey, we may have met at your front door! While I’m canvassing and talking to people all over the state about environmental issues in New Jersey, I love the fact that no matter where I go everyone cares about the environment and tries to do their part in protecting it.
I listen to stories about not using pesticides on their lawns and about fighting pipelines proposed to run through their communities. Girl scout troops that help out with town-wide litter clean-ups and beach sweeps. In almost every neighborhood there is a passionate, elderly resident who serves as the block’s recycling patrol. Thank you! The best way to make change is by starting in your own home and neighborhood and by simply talking with your neighbors.
Montclair is my home, which is why I am so happy to launch our ReThink Disposable campaigns out of our office here and soon spread to our neighboring towns. Having grown up here, I know that people are generally very environmentally-conscious, reflected in many of our town institutions like BikeWalk Montclair and our green business recognition program.
My public elementary school taught me environmental values at an early age. I remember learning about the three R’s: Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle. While I am happy to see great recycling programs in Montclair (we now recycle numbers 1, 2, and 5!) and all over New Jersey, and great recycling neighborhood enforcers (you know who you are), those first two R’s are even more important and are unfortunately lacking. Fortunately, we don’t even need to rely on our municipalities for this; reducing and reusing are in our control.
Even us conscientious ones throw away trash every day and probably don’t spend too much time thinking about it once it reaches the curb for garbage pick-up.
When our trash is gone from the curb in our own neighborhood, it still affects someone else’s neighborhood. Most municipal solid waste ends up either in a landfill or an incinerator. There are thirteen operating commercial landfills and six incinerators in New Jersey. Some of our waste is even traded out to facilities in other states. None of these facilities is good for the environment. Incinerators release toxins into the air, transportation to transfer stations releases diesel emissions that also pollute the air, and landfills leach contaminants into groundwater. My garbage from Montclair goes to the incinerator and becomes a public health concern in Newark.
In addition to polluting, our waste also costs our municipalities a lot of money. According to Montclair’s Office of Environmental Affairs, on the approximately 15,000 tons of waste the town produces each year and sends to the incinerator, the town pays a tipping fee of $85 dollars a ton. That’s $1,275,000 a year.
And that’s only what ends up in the trash. Litter is still a problem. Street litter ends up going down the storm drain and polluting our waterways. If we don't do anything about it, there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050. Solving our waste problem starts with source reduction. This means using less to begin with. Most municipal waste and street litter comes from single-use disposable packaging products from food or beverages that are so common in our fast-paced, consumer-driven lifestyle.
ReThink Disposable is a program dedicated to stopping waste before it starts with a proven track record of working with restaurants and institutions to voluntarily reduce waste from single-use disposables. Businesses have reduced their environmental footprint while saving money on supply purchases and waste disposal, and increasing customer satisfaction and demand for environmentally-conscious businesses.
ReThink Disposable has now expanded to New Jersey with the support from the New England Interstate Water Pollution Control Commission (NEIWPCC). This past summer of 2017, Clean Water Action launched ReThink Disposable here in New Jersey, partnering with festivals, events, and restaurants near our Long Branch office.
In partnership with the Asbury Park Boardwalk, we launched a “Straws by Request” program over Memorial Day Weekend. Participating establishments include Oyster Bar, The Anchor’s Bend, Beach Bar, and Wonder Bar. We partnered with Indian Summer Music Festival to green the event. During the festival, straws were served only by request, reusable cups were provided with a refill discount, and water refill stations replaced plastic water bottles.
Clean Water Action also partnered with Indy Street Film Fest in Red Bank to reduce waste at their community cookout and screening of the film “Barbecue”. At Woman Made, hosted by Asbury Park Bazaar and Babes in Business, we helped the event of 500 attendees run completely plastic free and with water refill stations. Those are only a few of the highlights and we have more planned for the year ahead.
Clean Water Action is launching the ReThink Disposable program in the Newark-Montclair area with the support of the Environmental Endowment for New Jersey. We are starting with a “Straw Free December” campaign where local restaurants are participating by serving straws by request only. Participating restaurants include Vital, Toast, Plum on Park, and Local Coffee, with more to come. The idea is to start with something small to get people thinking about their individual choices that contribute to pollution. The U.S. consumes 500 million straws a day, enough to circle the planet more than two-and-a-half times every day. We consume 182 billion straws a year, generating 342 million pounds of waste. This is plastic waste made of toxic materials that will not biodegrade. All this for something so small that really isn't necessary.
I am happy that so many restaurants are environmentally-conscious and willing to make changes to make a difference. It is also up to us as consumers to make a difference. When you go to a participating restaurant, thank them for participating and remember to skip the straw! We will also be doing a social media contest where people can post their photos with straw-free drinks and tag them #StrawFreeDecember @ReThinkDisposableNJ for a chance to win a reusable mug.
Coming up in the next few month, we will be reaching out to more restaurants and events to expand our waste-free programs. To keep up with our projects, you can visit rethinkdisposable.org or follow us: facebook @CleanWaterActionNJ, Instagram @RethinkDisposableNJ, or Twitter @cleanwaternj
ReThink Disposable is supported by the New England Interstate Water Pollution Control Commission and Environmental Endowment of New Jersey. Copyright Clean Water Action & Clean Water Fund 2017