Downtown stores prepare for plastic bag ban

By Susan Mustapich | Apr 15, 2019
Photo by: Susan Mustapich Nancy Leonard, owner of Leonard's on Elm Street, is one of a number of store owners who have always used paper shopping bags.

CAMDEN — As the April 30 deadline banning shops from using plastic to bag customer purchases approaches, some store owners are applying for waivers that will allow them to use up their existing supply of plastic bags, while other stores that have long used paper bags are not affected by the coming change.

The new town ordinance went to the polls in November 2018 as a citizen referendum, and was approved by voters 2,145 to 1,050. The ban also includes a 10-cent fee for paper bags used at food stores selling staples such as dairy, meat and produce. The referendum was initiated by the Camden Conservation Commission at a time when Select Board members decided more discussion was needed, instead of sending the issue to a vote.

Among Camden's unique, individually-owned shops and restaurants, store owners who have been using paper shopping bags feel they will not be affected by the plastic bag ban.

One of those owners is Nancy Leonard, the owner of the women's clothing, jewelry and accessory store Leonard's, at the corner of Elm and Washington streets. She paused from unpacking a delivery of newly arrived spring clothing to show the specially made printed paper shopping bags with handles she has always used in her store. At Stonewall Kitchens on Elm Street, Heidi Hoeckel brought out one of the store's small printed paper shopping bags designed for carrying out the jams, jellies, sauces and other products packaged in distinctively shaped glass jars.

Planet Toys, Sea Bags, Once a Tree and Sherman's Books have also long used paper bags. At Sherman's, Martha Bustin was recently working at the registers with manager Elli Powell. Bustin said while the plastic bag ban would have no impact at Sherman's, she is seeing a change in customers' behavior. Customers are using fewer bags, she said, either bringing their own bag, putting their purchases in bags with items bought at other stores, or just not taking a bag for their purchase. Adam at Sea Bags said customers will often use the bags they are buying in the store, which are made of recycled sails, to carry their other purchases.

At Maine Sport Outfitters, Assistant Manager Robin Botley said the store will be ready for the switch from plastic to paper. It is still using up some plastic bags, she said, but also has new paper bags and shopping bags with handles in stock. The store is also displaying a sign on the door to help prepare customers for the upcoming change.

Other store owners who have been using plastic bags for their customers' purchases have been facing the higher costs of purchasing paper or reusable bags, and the problem of what to do with inventories of plastic bags.

Alyce Boynton, co-owner  of the Village Store on Main Street, has used plastic bags in multiple sizes. She has a large inventory, about 4,500, and has asked for an exemption from the town to use those bags up. She has ordered paper bags, as well as fabric reusable bags, which she plans to sell for cost plus shipping. She said since the transition period, from the November vote to the April 30 deadline, occurred partly during the winter season, it wasn’t possible to use up her supply of bags.

Boynton is concerned that the paper bags won’t hold up well for a typical sale of six mugs, or six jars of jam, which are heavy, or in wet weather. She is also concerned that customers, especially the elderly, will find them harder to manage.

Ed Reed, owner of The Colony, has been in business on Main Street for 50 years, and has seen many new ideas come and go. While he does not mind switching over to paper bags, he does not buy into the idea that it will do any good. The same people who backed this change are buying from Amazon, which uses a lot of plastic in packaging, he said. Plastic packaging is also allowed in Camden, he said, referring to the bubble wrap used to protect the very popular mugs customers buy, which will now be put in paper bags. His opinion of the plastic bag ban: “It’s stupid,” he said.

Reed said the paper bags he is ordering to replace his 9- by 12-inch plastic bags cost four times more than the plastic. He also has secured an exemption from the town allowing him to use up a large inventory of plastic bags. He said that once the town let store owners use up their inventories, he was fine with the change.

Todd Anderson, co-owner of French & Brawn Marketplace, has been preparing for months for the ban. The independently owned grocery store in the heart of downtown Camden uses a lot of plastic bags, as well as polystyrene packaging, for cuts of meat from its butcher department. He agreed that the switch from plastic to paper is costly.

Anderson does not have a large supply of leftover plastic bags, as he has been buying only what was needed since the ban was approved by voters. He has a new, environmentally friendly packaging product to replace the polystyrene. However, he almost bought a large order of custom-printed biodegradable plastic bags in 2018, and said he was thankful he decided not to do that.

Comments (3)
Posted by: Katie Drinkwater | Apr 16, 2019 14:16

Posted by Dee U.  I've been using reusable bags for nearly 30 yrs and it's easy to do...once you train your brain to remember the bags.  Put them right back in the car once unloaded in house. If they're in the trunk, a post it note on the dash helps to remind you! Haha!

Posted by: Ron Hawkes | Apr 16, 2019 06:34

The worst part of the plastic bag ban is remembering to take your grocery bags with you when you leave the house. Hannaford sells a bag at the checkouts for 50¢ if you forget them, but keep in mind they are just a different type of plastic so what did we really gain. The next step is to get Thomaston to pass a plastic bag ban so Walmart will need to stop using them.

Posted by: Mary A McKeever | Apr 15, 2019 14:46

I feel sorry for the stores who are caught flat-footed. Now this will pass and environmentally friendly will win out. I for one think this is good for everyone for environmentally products replacement.

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