Efforts to reduce single-use plastic and paper shopping bags in Camden have moved into the slow lane.

Camden Select Board Chairman John French said April 10 that proposals discussed over the past few months about charging fees for plastic and paper bags will be taken up again in May or June. Members of the Camden Conservation Commission initiated discussion about bag fees earlier this year.

French invited Hannaford Supermarket representatives attending the meeting to participate in the discussions when they resume.

Board member Marc Ratner urged members of the public to read an article written by board member Alison McKellar on the complex issues to be considered when attempting to reduce or ban single-use plastic bags. McKellar's opinion piece, "In defense of plastic bags," is posted online at Villagesoup.com.

Bob Jocelyn, manager of the Camden Hannaford Supermarket, and George Parmenter, Hannaford's sustainability manager, explained their ongoing program to recycle plastic bags, and shared their experiences with bag bans and fees in areas where Hannaford stores are located.

Both made it clear that Hannaford does not get involved in debating bag use issues in communities, and that some of the towns where their stores are located like their single-use plastic bags, while others do not.

Parmenter said Hannaford has 182 stores in five states, with the majority of stores in Maine. He described recycling in the stores as robust, and said that "just under 80 percent" of the waste is recycled.

"We have programs in place to make sure that when we have food we can't sell, it goes to hunger relief, and when that doesn't happen, it goes to local farmers for feed, or we recycle it by composting it," he said.

He said Hannaford recycles "tons and tons of cardboard and shrink plastic" and somewhat lesser amounts of regular plastic.

McKellar asked if was OK to bring plastic bags to be recycled that do not originate from the Hannaford Supermarket.

Parmenter said it was. He said the plastic needs to be clean and dry, adding the guideline, that "if it crinkles it's probably not a good candidate."

He gave a behind-the-scenes view of what happens after customers bring plastic bags back to the store. Bags are baled, and shipped back to the distributors in emptied food trucks. Parmenter called this "reverse logistics." The trucks are returning with cardboard, rigid plastics and plastic films, including shrink plastics, plastic bags, packaging bags, and even dry-cleaning bags, he said.

The plastic bags and films end up at Trex, a company that uses the material to make composite furniture and decking.

Parmenter responded to a question about what Hannaford has seen in communities that charge a fee for single-use bags versus banning .

"Bans are easy," he said, explaining that if plastic bags are banned in a community, Hannaford stops using them. He said when Portland adopted fees on single-use plastic and paper bags, the stores initially saw about an 80-percent reduction in single-use bags, and observed most of the customers in the parking lots coming in to the stores with reusable bags. He said Hannaford has not continued to track bag use after the fees were initially put in place.

McKellar asked what the store has seen when plastic bags are banned, and if the use of paper bags increased.

Jocelyn said that when Belfast banned plastic bags, they saw the use and purchase of reusable bags increase, and that "paper bags went up astronomically."

He explained that from a business standpoint, a bale of paper bags is heavy and bulky and "takes a strong person to lug them around." Paper bags take up a lot of room in storage and require a lot of trucking to get the bags to the stores, he said. Plastic bags are much lighter, with hundreds of bags packaged in smaller boxes.

The paper bags do not have handles and customers can't carry multiple paper bags, the way they can carry multiple plastic bags, he explained. Problems occur when they get wet. He questioned what happens when paper bags are brought home, and whether they are reused as many times as plastic.

Jocelyn commented that when bordering towns, like Brunswick and Topsham, have different bag ordinances, one with a fee and another with a ban, "it's very confusing to customers."

Board member Jenna Lookner asked if regional consistency in bag ordinances would be helpful.

Jocelyn said, "Taking my Hannaford hat off, I'd like to see something statewide. If it's town by town or regional, it's going to be confusing to tourists when they come up here."