Survey shows concern for environment
Township creating advisory group to ponder ideas, including plastic bags and straws
South Whitehall Township is a community brimming with commercial businesses and experiencing no shortage of new development, but a survey shows residents are environmentally conscious and anxious for change.
An online survey showed support for a reduction in plastic straws and a ban on plastic bags, as well as investment in more renewable energy sources. South Whitehall Commissioner Mark Pinsley said the results confirmed officials’ support for a green advisory committee.
The commissioners gave the committee the go-ahead on Aug. 21.
“We need an organized effort to pursue these environmental ideas,” Pinsley said. “The public certainly seems open to these kinds of things.”
The online survey had 723 respondents, capturing their opinions about green initiatives and their satisfaction with the recycling and trash hauler in the township.
Sixty-nine percent of respondents supported efforts to reduce the use of single-use plastic shopping bags. About
65% were in favor of major retailers phasing out plastic bags, and 57% wanted to see the same done with single-use plastic straws.
When it comes to supporting general green initiatives such as renewable energy, 72% of respondents said they favored such efforts.
Any efforts to push for a ban or tax on plastic bags would have to wait thanks to state legislation earlier this year that placed a one-year ban on such decisions by municipalities, but Pinsley said it’s good to know where residents stand on the issues.
The green advisory committee will include three to five members who live in South Whitehall, and also liaisons for the township commissioners and administration. Those interested in applying for the committee should contact Randy Cope, the director of township operations and treasurer.
The group will not be able to enact or enforce laws; it would only be able to recommend changes and advise township officials.
Pinsley said the township is deliberately creating an organization different from an environmental advisory council since such groups must adhere to a state-defined framework.
Preserving that flexibility was probably a good move, according to Arundhati Khanwalkar, chairperson of the Allentown Environmental Advisory Council.
In the last year, most of the Allentown group has spread the word about its existence and held forums on issues like regional approaches to stormwater management.
Khanwalkar said requirements by the state law and city ordinance have made it difficult for the council to make big strides.
The group relies on mayoral appointments, and there’s no requirement for any elected officials or city staff to be a part of it.
The group often found itself locked in opposition with former mayor Ed Pawlowski during his tenure. Khanwalkar said this discord caused the EAC to become more of an activist group than an advisory one, which is not in the spirit of the council.
“I would say we’ve done a lot despite these limitations,” she said.
Ultimately Khanwalkar said the group would like to push for changes to the city ordinance so they could work more effectively.
Diane Husic White, environmental science and studies program director at Moravian College, said the effectiveness of advisory committees on environmental issues can depend largely on the diversity of perspectives on the board.
She sat on an EAC organized in part by former Congressman Charlie Dent to act as a regional sounding board for the environmental issues he encountered in Washington.
“We all had different perspectives, but the conversations were rich,” White said.
Greg Duncan, a South Whitehall resident since 2006, is one of those seeking a spot on the township’s green advisory committee. Duncan has degrees in biological engineering and environmental science and owns a consulting company that specializes in environmentally conscious design.
“I’ve always kind of had a lean toward environmental stewardship,” Duncan said.
Through his work, Duncan has watched environmentally focused groups take root in urban areas and begin to branch out to more suburban ones. Such organizations can help provide an outlet for people to make a difference.
“This gives them an opportunity to have a voice and use those good intentions to help guide and help municipalities go in directions that align with their beliefs,” Duncan said.
Cope said the scope of the committee will start small, but it’s clear to him that during a time of such rampant development in the township, it’s needed more than ever and can “shed new light on what we’re doing here.”
“We don’t want to be followers, we want to be leaders,” Cope said of the decision of the township environmental pursuits. “We just really want to be more thoughtful everyday about our impact.”