As the city of Saco nears the enforcement date of banning single-use plastic bags in grocery stores, it has come to the attention of local retailers that the wording in the ordinance also bans reusable plastic bags.
In April, the city approved a new ordinance to eliminate the use of single-use plastic bags in grocery stores and encourage shoppers to use reusable grocery bags. Under the ordinance, stores cannot provide single-use bags but can provide degradable resin, paper or reusable bags.
Grocery stores have been given a grace period, ending Oct. 1, to comply with this ordinance.
It was discovered by members of the Maine Grocers and Food Producers Association, the Retail Association of Maine and Delhaize America, that while the ordinance encourages the use of reusable grocery bags, it does not allow stores to sell or provide reusable bags that are made with plastic.
This drew concern from retailers, as many stores sell and promote reusable grocery bags that are made with plastic.
“The original intent of this ordinance was strictly to deal with the plastic film bags, period,” Councilor Alan Minthorn said at Monday night’s City Council workshop. He said when drafting the ordinance, there was discussion to at a later date address the use of reusable plastic bags, because they can eventually end up in landfills. He said as the ordinance was edited, the differentiation between plastic film bags and plastic bags was lost, and the ordinance now reads that the city wants to ban grocery stores from providing any type of plastic bag, even if it is reusable.
Councilor David Precourt said his concern was with the plastic film bags, and he wasn’t in favor of banning the plastic re-usable bags.
Minthorn said grocery stores should get on board with using resin bags, which are similar to plastic film bags except they are degradable. He said the resin bags cost the same to grocers as plastic resin bags and had been successfully used by stores in other parts of the country.
“There’s no reason to embrace a greener product and brand it as such on your bags,” he said.
Wayne Stewart, representing Delhaize America, which operated Hannaford grocery stores, said resin bags weren’t comparable in quality to plastic-film bags and were more expensive than plastic bags because there was a smaller demand for the product at this time.
Stewart said Hannaford is environmentally conscious and had in place a reusable bag program, with sales of the bags benefiting local charities. He said customers loved the program, and the way the ordinance was written, the store would not be able to sell the reusable bags in Saco because they were made with plastic.
He said the city of Saco would be one of the first cities across the country that would be banning the reusable plastic bags.
Minthorn suggested an additional six-month grace period to allow stores to sell plastic reusable grocery bags and city officials and would sit down at the beginning of next year and revise the current ordinance to create “a happy medium” for both parties.
Other councilors agreed with Minthorn’s recommendation. The council will make an official vote at an upcoming meeting on an order that would allow grocery stores to continue to sell reusable plastic bags for the next six months.
The city will still begin enforcing the ban of single use plastic bags on Oct. 1.