Several Camden business owners told the Select Board Feb. 6 they are concerned about the impact of proposed fees on single-use paper and plastic bags.

A new ordinance, developed by the Camden Conservation Commission, proposes that merchants charge customers a 10-cent fee for single-use plastic and paper bags, in order to encourage use of reusable bags, and protect the environment. The bag fee would be itemized on a receipt, and the proceeds kept by stores. Stores violating the ordinance could be fined $250 for a first violation and $500 for a second.

The concerns of the owners of Uncle Willy's Candy Shoppe and Camden House of Pizza were focused on their use of small bags to package candy and to-go food, and customer reaction to fees.

John McCluskey, owner of Camden House of Pizza with his wife Mary, said he wanted to make sure that anything that was done was a "win-win." His concern is the customers' reactions.

"We're a tourist town," he said. "I rely on that income. I want them to leave with a good feeling."

Mary McCluskey explained that as soon as sandwiches and other items are made to order, they are packaged in paper bags.

"We can't leave food out and then ask customers if they want a bag," she said. "We're busy."

"Having retailers involved in crafting this ordinance would be helpful," said Matt Sutton, owner of Uncle Willy's Candy Shoppe. "This is a tourist town."

He spoke about how stores that remain open during the colder months are "on a shoe-string budget."

Uncle Willy's uses paper bags, and most are made of recyclable materials. The bags are custom-made for the candy store.

Select Board members and Roger Rittmaster, chairman of the Camden Conservation Commission, responded to store owners' concerns.

Board member Jenna Lookner said the Uncle Willy's bags are great, and that she even reused them to package some Christmas presents this year.

Chairman John French wants more input from businesses. He asked that an effort be made to reach out to all of the businesses in Camden, and give them an opportunity to participate. If the ordinance goes forward, he wants to give businesses time to prepare for it.

Board member Alison McKellar asked what problem the ordinance is trying to solve, and about unintended consequences. She has looked into reusable grocery bags, and found most are made in China and are not recyclable. She has seen information that each bag has to be used about 150 times to offset the environmental impact of making them.

She said during community roadside cleanups, polystyrene containers were more of a problem than plastic bags. She said the containers fill with dirt and leaves and disintegrate when picked up.

Board member Bob Falciani pointed out that no one has quantified the pollution from plastic bags.

Rittmaster said the smaller bags used in stores are not the target of the proposed ordinance, and that the ordinance can be revised to address this.

Conservation Commission member Stephanie Smith said the group was looking for the Select Board's feedback. In preparing the single-use bag ordinance, they researched 11 Maine towns with various bag fees. The committee found paper bags have negative impacts on the environment, as well as plastic, and that a fee on plastic drives customers to choose paper. The group's research led to the proposal to charge for both plastic and paper bags and encourage customers to bring their own reusable bags to stores. Rittmaster said the focus was on full-sized bags, and not the smaller bags.

Smith said customers are already bringing reusable bags to stores, and stores are asking customers if they want items bagged.

Conservation Commission member Molly Mulhern is focusing on polystyrene take-out containers. She found that Hannaford has the capability to switch to recyclable take-out containers, based on a town's request, and is already doing this in other areas. There would still be some use of polystyrene in prepackaged products.

Mulhern said the use of plastic and paper bags is not just a retailer issue, but is up to the people of the town as well. She urged the Select Board to find out what townspeople in Camden want to do.