Municipal bans or restrictions on the retail use of single-use plastic shopping bags are continuing to spread in Maine, primarily along the coast, as two more towns on Mount Desert Island have taken up the issue.
The Bar Harbor Town Council enacted two bans Tuesday, one on plastic bags and another on polystyrene food containers, in hopes that the move might help raise awareness and reverse the spread of plastic and other toxins in the environment.
Cornell Knight, town manager for Bar Harbor, said Thursday that the bans are expected to go into effect on Feb. 15, 30 days after Tuesday’s vote. He said businesses have until the end of December 2019 to use up their inventory of single-use shopping bags and polystyrene food containers.
Chris Saunders, town manager for Tremont, said Thursday that voters in that MDI town are expected to consider such bans at their annual town meeting in May.
The Bar Harbor council discussed the possible bans at its December meeting. On Tuesday, residents urged the council to adopt the bans, which are aimed at preventing local businesses from buying plastic bags and polystyrene containers in bulk for their customers to use. The bans are not intended to prevent anyone from re-using a plastic bag that they might have brought home from a previous shopping trip.
“We’re sitting on a possible timebomb,” MDI resident Dick Atlee told the council, referring to plastics affecting the health of oceans. “We’re going to have a real problem if we don’t start looking at it.”
Councilors Erin Coug, Gary Friedmann, Matthew Hochman, Joe Minutolo and Judith Noonan voted in favor of the bans. Councilors Stephen Coston and Paul Paradis, each of whom said they support reducing the use of plastic but are opposed to government mandates on the issue, voted against them.
Several other towns and cities in Maine have enacted similar bans, hoping to decrease the amount of plastic that washes into the Gulf of Maine, where lobster and other commercially fished species live. According to Maine Department of Marine Resources, more than half a billion dollars worth of seafood — more than 75 percent of which were in lobster landings — were brought ashore in Maine in 2017.
Restrictions on plastic shopping bags and polystyrene food containers also have been enacted in Bath, Blue Hill, Belfast, Brunswick, Cape Elizabeth, Damariscotta, Falmouth, Freeport, Kennebunk, Portland, Saco, South Portland, Southwest Harbor, Topsham, York and Rockland.
In November, voters in Waterville narrowly approved a similar measure that would apply only to stores 10,000 square feet or more in size, but that ban was overturned after a recount. Bangor considered enacting such a proposal but dropped the idea in the fall of 2017.
The idea has been floated in Ellsworth, with all four candidates in November’s City Council election saying they support the idea, but has not yet been submitted to the council for consideration.