BRUNSWICK, Maine — A new fee in Portland for disposable shopping bags has been causing ripples up the midcoast.
In Brunswick and Topsham, a recently formed group is pushing for a similar ordinance. Freeport’s government is actively exploring a ban or fee on disposable bags, and one of that town’s major grocers this week stopped using plastic bags altogether.
A group called Bring Your Own Bag-MidCoast has begun a campaign in Brunswick and Topsham to push for passage of a 5-cent fee on single-use bags, similar to an ordinance that went into effect in Portland on April 15.
BYOB-MidCoast was founded in late 2014 by Marcia Harrington and Averil Fessenden, and now has about 15 members in Topsham and Brunswick.
The group would like to see an ordinance in Brunswick pass in November or December, said Harrington. They want Topsham selectmen to recommend voters adopt a similar ordinance next year.
How a 5-cent charge would impact those from lower incomes is “probably the biggest concern,” said Harrington, which is why she said BYOB-MidCoast is raising money to donate reusable bags in the community. About $300 has been raised so far.
“We hope Hannaford will step up and give out free bags for the first two weeks, but they’re not committing to anything,” said Harrington, noting that the grocer began bagging items in free totes in Portland two weeks before that city’s ordinance went into effect.
BYOB-MidCoast also wants a ban on Styrofoam containers on prepared food and beverages. Unlike in Portland, the Brunswick/Topsham Styrofoam ban would apply to all retailers “for reasons of equity,” said Harrington.
The driving force behind the bans are the enormous amount of plastic waste accumulating in the oceans, but Harrington said that plastic and Styrofoam liter is also hurting local tourism and fisheries.
Whether Brunswick and Topsham will enact disposable bag and Styrofoam limits isn’t clear.
“It certainly is feasible,” said Brunswick Recycling and Sustainability Committee Chairman Alexander Anesko. “To do this, you have to get businesses behind you.”
Brunswick may also have different dynamics than Portland or Freeport, said Anesko, adding, “I’d hate for that to be the reason to do nothing.”
“I am wary of it, because it’s something that’s really important to do right. Otherwise you’re going to anger people,” Anesko said.
The Brunswick Downtown Association will wait until after it gets results from a BYOB-MidCoast survey of local businesses before siding on the issue, according to BDA Chairwoman Dee Perry.
“We would side with the businesses. That’s what we’re here for. I personally think it’s a nice initiative if it can happen without a lot of work for our businesses,” said Perry.
Maine Street businesses were surveyed this week, said Harrington. Cook’s Corner and Pleasant Street businesses will come next.
Anesko said that there are other environmental issues he would like to see Brunswick focus on. Notably, Anesko said he would like to see the town embrace a program similar to Solarize Freeport, which provides bulk pricing for those looking to install a solar energy system this summer as part of that program. In Freeport, contracts must be signed by May 2 at noon to qualify for the discount.
Brunswick’s recycling committee is now surveying local companies about providing a bulk discount in Brunswick.
“I have a solar array on my garage and it powers my entire house. I’m very happy with it,” Anesko said.