FALMOUTH, Maine — Town Hall was crowded Wednesday night, as dozens of residents packed in for a public forum on whether to ban plastic shopping bags.
Following a brief presentation by the Recycling and Energy Advisory Committee, which has been leading the way towards drafting an ordinance, about a dozen people spoke, and most supported the ban.
The goal of the Town Council has been to get an ordinance in place by Jan. 1, 2016. The ordinance recommended by REAC would take effect in two phases over the course of two years, and is similar to proposals being considered in other communities, including Freeport, South Portland and York.
The first phase would place 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 has proposed exemptions to these rules, including bags for meat, produce, deli foods and dry-cleaned clothes; bags for leaky 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 REAC member, said the phase-in would allow stores to use up their current inventory of plastic bags, and allow more time for outreach.
“I hope to see human behavior change,” Nichols said.
Glen Brand, director of the Maine chapter of the Sierra Club, urged the Town Council to adopt an ordinance, saying the bags are harmful to wildlife and require production of non-renewable fossil fuels. He said he and the Sierra Club “encourage simple, practical alternatives” to the bags.
Tim Lynch, of Merrill Road, said he also supports the proposal.
“It’s fantastic this town is at the forefront of trying to make these changes,” Lynch said, adding it is important to consider the impacts bags have on the environment and economy.
Craig Baranowski, one of the only dissenting voices, said REAC hasn’t done enough outreach to explain why residents shouldn’t be able to use the single-use plastic bags.
“You’ve removed by ability to have a choice,” he said.
The next step will be for the ordinance committee to draft language. Council Vice Chairman Russell Anderson, who chairs the committee, said the next chance for the committee to meet will be in early October.
“I would like to hear more from the business community,” Anderson said, in particular the six large retailers to be affected in the first year.
Councilor Karen Farber asked for a “tighter deadline,” and she felt “this has been coming for a while.”
“The bones of an ordinance are here,” Farber said, adding she wants a “clearer deadline” for language.
Anderson said the committee will meet as soon as it can and will bring something back to the council shortly thereafter.
“I don’t think anyone wants to drag this out longer,” he said.