Plastic-bag ban petitions are certified by town office

By Susan Mustpich | Sep 10, 2018
Photo by: Susan Mustapich A citizen-initiated petition aims to put a proposal -- to ban single-use plastic bags and charge 10 cents for large paper bags -- to a vote in November.

CAMDEN — Signatures have been certified on a citizen-initiated referendum question for the  November ballot on banning single-use plastic grocery bags, and charging a 10-cent fee on large paper grocery bags.

Citizens can petition to place a referendum question on a town ballot by collecting signatures of residents who are registered voters in the town. The number of signatures needed has to equal at least 10 percent of the number of votes cast in the town at the last gubernatorial election.

The signed petitions contain 307 certified signatures, according to Roger Rittmaster, Chairman of the Camden Conservation Commission. The petitions needed a minimum of 287 signatures in order for the proposed single-use bag ordinance to be placed on the November ballot. Signatures were certified by the town clerk's office. The effort to gather signatures started on Aug. 25, according to CCC member Molly Mulhern. It wrapped up a week before the Sept. 17 deadline given by town clerk Katrina Oakes.

The proposed ordinance was developed by the Camden Conservation Commission, and aims "to protect the environment and natural resources of Maine and our Penobscot Bay region by encouraging the use of re-usable bags and discouraging the use of disposable single-use carry-out bags."

Rittmaster and CCC member Stephanie Smith presented information on the environmental benefits of banning bags and bag fees at a select board workshop in August. Rittmaster said research shows that a ban on plastic and a fee on paper single- use carry-out bags is the most effective combination to encourage reusable bags, reduce pollution of the oceans and carbon emissions.

The issue has been discussed throughout the year at a number of select board meetings.

In February, commission members proposed an ordinance to cut down on single-use bags in Camden by charging fees for plastic and paper grocery bags. In April, the select board decided the issue needed further discussion in the future.

In July, Conservation Commission members brought an updated ordinance to a select board workshop, this time proposing a plastic-bag ban and paper-bag fee (Presentation attached below). On Aug. 21, select board members held a public hearing on the issue. After the hearing, they voted 3-1 against placing the single-use bag ordinance on the November ballot, with Jenna Lookner saying she could not vote against moving the proposal to voters. Marc Ratner was absent from the meeting.

During numerous meetings, business owners, select board members and residents have expressed their views on bag bans and fees. Four local business owners who attended meetings had concerns or opposed bag fees and bans. Representatives of Hannaford Supermarket said they do not get involved in the controversy over the issue, but are prepared to comply if a town decides to ban bags or charge fees, as they have done this in other towns. At the Aug. 21 public hearing on the proposed ordinances, 13 residents spoke in favor of the proposal to ban plastic bags and charge a 10-cent fee for paper bags. One business owner spoke against the proposed ordinances. Penobscot Bay Chamber of Commerce Director Tom Peaco spoke in favor of a regional strategy, in line with Rockland and Belfast, which have banned plastic bags. He said the chamber board of directors does not favor bag fees, but he could not speak for the hundreds of members of the chamber.

On Aug. 21, three select board members stated their reasons for voting against moving the plastic-bag ban and paper-bag fee to the November ballot.Taylor Benzie based his vote on what he has heard from local business owners. Alison McKellar opposes a plastic-bag ban, which she believes may unintentionally create more carbon emissions by increasing the use of large paper bags. She is also concerned about the carbon footprint of reusable bags, and that they are not recyclable. She supports fees on both paper and plastic bags, and increased recycling of both. Board chairman Bob Falciani believes litter is the bigger environmental threat to Camden Harbor, and that plastic bags are a very small part of the problem. Board members supported increased enforcement of Camden's existing litter laws. They also voted 4-0 to ask the Mid-Coast Solid Waste Corp. to propose a solution to deal with single-use bags that the four towns it serves can agree on.

Comments (2)
Posted by: Karen A Grove | Sep 11, 2018 10:01

And where does that fee go?

Posted by: Jeff Sukeforth | Sep 11, 2018 08:45

It would seem that those who wish to have plastic banned are not happy enough with that they also see the need to place a fee onto paper bags when used.  Can't you be happy with the bag ban why does everything have to have a fee assessed?

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