FALMOUTH, Maine — The first chance for public input on a possible ordinance to ban the use of single-use plastic bags will be at the Sept. 16 Town Council meeting.
Councilors have indicated a desire to get an ordinance in place by Jan. 1, 2016. The town’s Recycling and Energy Advisory Committee outlined a two-year phase-in system for the ordinance at the last council meeting on Aug. 24.
The first year would include a 5-cent fee on paper and plastic bags at stores with a footprint of 10,000 square feet or more. That would include the town’s six largest retailers: Hannaford supermarket, Shaw’s supermarket, Wal-Mart, Rite Aid, Staples and Goodwill.
The second year would establish an outright ban on all single-use shopping bags, with an optional fee for paper bags.
REAC also proposed exemptions to these rules, including bags for meat, produce, deli foods and dry-cleaned clothes; bags for leaky food, including take-out food, and bags to prevent damage or contamination from other items. The food assistance community would also be exempt from the fee.
Cathy Nichols, a member of the committee, said the panel wants to share the results of its outreach and research in hope of creating “an ordinance suited for Falmouth.”
The 5-cent fee in the first year matches the fee Portland enacted in April. Nichols said it makes “good business sense” to follow Portland’s lead “so we don’t create any business conflict.”
Nichols said plastic thin film, the material used for single-use shopping bags, should be returned to grocery stores and large retailers, where they will be properly recycled. Bags that are recycled at home with single-sort recyclables typically end up at the ecomaine facility in Portland, where they become tangled in the organization’s sorting equipment, or get combined with other plastics and sold for less than market value.
She said these bags also frequently end up in the ocean or other ecosystems.
“It’s not just about the thin film,” Nichols said, adding she hoped the ordinance would raise awareness about the things people purchase.
Nichols said in addition to the environmental benefit of banning the bags, she sees an opportunity for businesses to start producing more reusable bags.
“One personal mission of mine is to try to improve opportunities for manufacturers in Maine,” Nichols said. “I try to do that whenever I can.”
She said the movement toward reducing reliance on single-use bags needs to be a thoughtful one.
“I don’t want it to be just about a fee and a ban,” Nichols said. “I want people to think about what they bring home and what they put on the curb.”
The Town Council discussed whether it should have ordinance language already written for the forum, but ultimately decided the public should have input first. An opportunity for public input on a fully conceived ordinance will occur later this year.