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Rockland gives initial OK to ban on plastic bags

By Stephen Betts | Feb 12, 2018
Artwork by: Stephen Betts

Rockland — The Rockland City Council gave unanimous preliminary approval Monday night, Feb. 12, to imposing a ban on the distribution of single-use plastic bags by stores beginning Jan. 1, 2019.

The ordinance, which faces a formal public hearing and possible final vote on March 12, would also ban Styrofoam containers and impose a fee on paper bags.

Most of the speakers from the public backed the ban.

Chelsea Avirett said the ordinance would support a culture of sustainability in the community.

Alexander Shaw said the goal is to reduce waste.

Greg Smith said the science was clear on the harm that plastic does to the environment.

One speaker said the ban harms people who cannot afford to buy reusable bags.

Councilor Adam Ackor said he shared the concerns about plastic in the environment, but that he also had concerns about the proposed ordinance. He pointed out that the ban would not affect stores nearby, such as Lowe's and Wal-Mart.

Ackor said he reuses 100 percent of his plastic bags -- to line his trash cans or to pick up dog waste.

The council is scheduled to hold a workshop on the proposed ordinance Feb. 26.

Councilor Ed Glaser is sponsoring the ordinance.

"It is in the best interests of the city of Rockland to protect the environment and our natural resources by prohibiting the distribution and use of disposable, single-use, carryout plastic bags, by discouraging the distribution and use of disposable, single-use, carryout paper bags, and by encouraging the use of reusable shopping bags," the preamble to the proposed ordinance states.

The law would require stores to charge 5 cents on every carryout paper bag used by customers. The fee would increase to 10 cents a year later, and then 15 cents in two years. The stores will keep the money from the sale of paper bags.

Customers would not be prohibited from bringing any type of bag they want into the store to carry home their groceries or merchandise.

Stores that violate the ordinance would be fined $100 for the first violation. A second or subsequent violations within a year would result in a $250 fine to the store.

Last April, the City Council heard a presentation on a possible ban from Rob Pfeiffer of Lincolnville. Pfeiffer made similar presentations to Camden and Thomaston. He urged communities to take a regional approach.

Brunswick, Topsham, Kennebunk, Freeport, Falmouth, York, Portland and South Portland have enacted bans or fees on plastic bags. And Belfast became the most recent with its ban on plastic bags and Styrofoam, which took effect Jan. 1. Camden is also considering such a ban.

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Comments (17)
Posted by: Melissa Byer | Feb 21, 2018 21:01

Well the way I see it if they plan on doing this they should be able to save all kinds of space at the dump and should be able to lower the cost of a dump sticker!!!!!!!

Posted by: Michael Mullins | Feb 17, 2018 22:31

Melanie, one of the problems with this policy is the question of whether Cities should interfere in the transactions between stores and customers in this way.  And your post summarizes that nicely.  This policy would 'force' stores and there customers to act a certain way at the risk of fines.  The intent of the ordinance is to do one thing (ban plastic bags and implement price controls on paper bags).  Carry bags are like a lot of other products, in that they are sold or given away in a mutual transaction.  Stores offer them because they facilitate commerce, and the purchase of more items per trip.  One good question, yet unanswered, stems from your comment.  Will people end up making more trips, or buying surplus bags they don't need, which would obviate some of the expected environmental benefits of this new rule.  Someone remarked at the public hearing, "How hard is it to bring a bag with you to the store?".  The point is not hardness/difficulty, but what creates value for consumers and businesses.  For example, it's not 'hard' to bring coffee or a sandwich with you every time you go somewhere.  Yet, many people enjoy going the convenience and experience of not doing so.  Moreover, they enjoy trying coffees or different types of food items.  One might ask, are there different bags, really?  There are.  Hannaford has at least three types of bags.  Some stores have cardboard containers, some have plastic, cloth (LL bean) etc.  And there are multiple grades of each product.  Already, these bags are paid for.  Stores pay for the bags, and pass the cost along in their prices.  So the bags are already 'paid for'.  So what the initiators of this order want is not for someone to 'pay for' these bags.  Rather, they want to make customers 'uncomfortable' if they forget bags, and therefore drive them to an alternative behavior (not to forget a bag).  This is utilizing concepts from behavioral economics.  But the downside is frankly, that people don't want to be directed many times, and the timing of doing this to people, regardless of income or wealth, at a time when they are buying life's basics, is a questionable one.  Indeed, governments large and small use tax/subsidy regimes all the time to shift behavior.  And they can serve social good, such as the recycling deposits I mentioned below.  But governments seldom wade into direct price controls for goods, and for good reason.  They 1) distort markets in unpredictable ways, 2) are costly to all parties to implement, 3) create displeasure on the side of consumers, and 4) inevitably lead to either shortages or oversupply of goods, and a loss of producer and consumer surplus (a deadweight loss).  If the City of Rockland wants to reduce nuisance plastic bags, ideas mentioned like minimum mils, biodegradability, and bag size would go farther, and be less unpalatable to the public and businesses.

Posted by: Nathan Kroms Davis | Feb 14, 2018 12:13

Nancy, have you looked at biodegradable poop bags for picking up dog waste? Loyal Biscuit and T. J. Maxx both sell them. Apparently not all advertising is accurate so look for ones that meet this standard: ASTM D6400. For those of us with cats, the litter genie still uses plastic but much less (and it's easier to use too -- no smell).

Posted by: Nina Reed | Feb 14, 2018 11:51

Myself, I am torn on the plastic bag issue, only because I do not like being forced to buy additional means of transporting items that I've already paid for. That being said, I have purchased several of Hannaford's 2/$1 reusable bags and now carry them in my car for everything. Those things are amazing, and while more expensive, they are far stronger than the ones that Shaws sells. I have found that just leaving them in the car, I have been far more likely to use them. -Melanie Keene

Posted by: Harry Fitzgerald | Feb 14, 2018 08:46

I am one of those who reuses plastic bags, Hannaford's are the best, Walmart has the worst. I use them in small trash cans, where, yes, once full I tie them up and throw them away. I use them when disposing of messy things. I use them when cleaning out my refrigerator. I use them to gather my compostable things to carry out to my compost heap, I do not have a baby about anymore, but when I did, and had to dispose of a dirty diaper, I used a plastic trash bag for that as well. And I use them when walking the dog. There are no options that I can think of other than plastic for scooping poop. I do not, and will not, use a reusable bag to do these things and then wash them out, and disinfect them.  It does save me from buying more of the 13 gallon Glad bags, which I will have to use once my plastic bag supply is gone. Guess I will have to shop at Walmart more to get their bags. In the meantime, I will visit Hannaford and get as many plastic bags that I can so I can stock up.

Nancy Fitzgerald

Posted by: Ed Glaser | Feb 13, 2018 18:58

Oh Cathy, what a great idea! If this passes, we should work with AIO, not just on a reusable bag drive, but to ask the donors to also include a few food items with every bag.


Posted by: Cathy Baker | Feb 13, 2018 16:33

Shaw's carries an Eco-Loop bag that I buy all the time -- 10 cents!  It's a much thicker grade of plastic, perfect for shopping for the Food Pantry, as I can drop off that bagful of canned goods and know that someone will be able to get their groceries home intact.  Hannaford only charges 50 cents for their older-design shopping bags, which will survive being laundered.  Not forever, but good enough, hmm?

Posted by: Gerald A Weinand | Feb 13, 2018 15:05

I have to say I'm impressed by how many people I see walking into local supermarkets carrying their own bags. Quite a difference from just a few years ago.

Posted by: Michael Mullins | Feb 13, 2018 14:18

Allison, regarding the carbon footprint of paper, please share that I would like to review it.  But paper is a mainstay product of Maine, and can be reused, for a fire started, and can be composted anywhere, including one's yard.  And before polyethylene bags, we did have an option, which was wax paper bags, which were in great circulation in the old General Stores.  There are a lot of stakeholders here, which is why it's a tough decision.  What's troubling is that there are behavioral changes that need to happen to make this policy work, and any time government tries to force a behavior change, there will be grievances.  One interesting policy can be found in Brazil, where the government pays for recycling of plastic, so there is a cottage industry of people who pick up plastic on a trailer (or by horse) and bring it in.  It provides some income for these workers, and keeps the roads clean.  I for one am a big fan of recycling deposits, which are at 5c a can and have been there for what, 30, 40 years?  A very effective policy might be to require a 5c deposit for every plastic bag sold, credited upon recycling.  I think this would be more effective.


Posted by: Michael Mullins | Feb 13, 2018 14:10

This is a really tough issue. I heard both sides argued last night, and they were both persuasive. Some people really use these bags at home, saving them and using them for trash bags, etc. On the other hand, while most people are responsible with these bags, some are not. In Chicago, the trees in the park are 'ornamented' with fraying bags. It's terrible. My suggestion would be to allow stores to give out or sell bags, but require them to be heavier mil.... and larger, and made of PLA or Bioplastic. 1) Large four mil bags, with larger capacity, can reduce by 2/3 the number of bags placed into service... just by each bag holding more stuff. 2) because they are 4 mil, they will last longer, and can be reused more times than a single use, and can still be used for a garbage bag at home. 3) Requiring PLA or bioplastic means they will biodegrade if left outside. True that PLA requires industrial composting, but this is easy to achieve if the bags are printed as such.

Posted by: Amy Files | Feb 13, 2018 12:05

Allison -- you bring up a good point regarding paper's carbon footprint -- which is why Rockland is considering a ban on plastic and a fee for paper. Paper should not simply replace plastic -- and so it's important to place a fee on it to lower its use. I would disagree however that people tend to re-use plastic bags enough to account for the damage they do to our environment -- while some people (how many?) may re-use (how many times?) - do you have this data? - they ultimately end up in our waste stream and environment and because of, as you know, their inability to breakdown easily -- can last up to 100's of years. And plastic bag bans are proven to be effective -- for example, in San Jose, they found their ban led to an 89 percent reduction in the number of plastic bags winding up in their city's storm drains.  That is a pretty impressive statistic -- cutting down on that amount of plastic bags that end up in our waste stream, environment or ocean -- even a fraction of that amount -- would be considered very successful. Another study showed that between 2010 (pre a plastic bag ban) and 2016 (after plastic bag ban), the California Coastal commission marked a 63% drop in the amount of plastic bags they picked up during their coastal cleanups. I would agree that we will still need to find creative solutions for some of our habits where we've come to rely on plastic bags -- but I am confident that we can do that and that the inconvenience will more than make up for the impact we can make on our local environment and food system. For example, while I wouldn't carry a wet bathing suit in a paper bag, I have carried them in my re-usable bag(s) without issue. A dirty diaper bag may demand a nice re-usable bag that can be wiped/disinfected or washed... but again, we have options for these examples of plastic bag use.

Posted by: Kendall Merriam | Feb 13, 2018 09:51

Bravo for an environmentally sound decision.

Posted by: Stephen K Carroll | Feb 13, 2018 08:11

Thanks ed this is long overdue. California and other environmentally conscious states have been doing this for years with no issues. This is needed, only sorry I am not there to speak for it.

Posted by: Katherine Holland | Feb 13, 2018 08:03

Plastic bags were one of the top 10 items found during the 2012 international coastal cleanup day. They are often carried off by the wind, so you may be less likely to see them lying on the ground in your neighborhood. Banning them is a good start at reducing the amount of plastic that ends up in the ocean where it can be eaten by birds, fish and ocean mammals that mistake them for jelly fish or other prey. They also form large gyres of plastic trash which block sunlight from the algae and plankton which are an important part of the marine food web. For the details, read


Posted by: David E Myslabodski | Feb 13, 2018 07:35

The other concern that I have is that paper bags have a much higher carbon footprint than paper bags


Say what???

Posted by: Alison S McKellar | Feb 13, 2018 07:13

I agree with Ian. Having coordinated several community wide roadside trash cleanups in Camden, and participated in many others, plastic grocery bags are not a big part of the problem. People tend to reuse those and they are highly recyclable as well.The problem is with littering in general. The other concern that I have is that paper bags have a much higher carbon footprint than paper bags and don't have as many reuse opportunities. You're not going to use a paper bag to carry a wet bathing suit or a dirty diaper so that just means more bags to buy for those purposes.

Posted by: Ian Emmott | Feb 13, 2018 05:24

I own a house by the industrial park and will from time to time clean out the gully that lines it from Thomaston st and plastic bags are the least of my problem. The majority are plastic bottles, one time sandwich containers, fireball nips and oh yeah... thousands of cigarette butts.

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