Public to weigh in on plastic bag and polystyrene bans

By Susan Mustapich | Aug 09, 2018

CAMDEN — A public hearing will be held to discuss a proposed ban on plastic bags and polystyrene containers, and a 10-cent charge for carry-out paper bags, as of Jan. 1.

Select Board members voted 3 to 1 to move the two proposed ordinances to a public hearing, with Marc Ratner, Jenna Lookner and Taylor Benzie voting in favor, and Bob Falciani opposed. The steps to place an issue before voters on the November ballot require public hearings to be completed in September, and are driven by state requirements that absentee ballots be available. The public hearing date has not been set.

Prior to the vote, board members debated the importance of letting voters decide in November whether to ban plastic grocery bags, and polystyrene take-out containers  versus continuing to review options such as recycling plastic bags, instead of a ban.

The effort to encourage shoppers to carry out groceries in reusable bags was initiated by the Camden Conservation Commission. Research presented by the commission at a July 25 workshop 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.

Increasing reusable bags is an important step towards reducing plastic pollution in the oceans, litter on the roadsides, and carbon emissions, according to commission chairman Roger Rittmaster. Co-Chair Stephanie Smith has led the commission's effort to gather feedback from local store owners and members of the public.

Plastic bags have now been banned by nine towns in Maine, including Rockland, Belfast, and Brunswick, according to research presented by the Commission. Bath and Freeport combine the use of a plastic bag ban with a fee on paper bags.

Select Board discussion

Ratner said he has been following the proposals to cut down on single use carry-out bags as the board's liaison to the Conservation Commission. He is convinced by the research that the way to cut down on the use of plastic bags to carry out grocery products is banning the bags. He pointed out that the surrounding towns of Rockland and Belfast have banned single-use plastic bags.

"The town is looking for the select board to lead the way and make a strong recommendation," Ratner said. "If the town does not feel they are ready for it, they will vote against it. We need to give the townspeople a chance to vote on this."

Lookner spoke in favor of moving the proposed ordinances forward. She remains concerned that it will not address the small plastic bags used within stores to bag individual items.

Benzie said he has observed a plastic bag ban when he lived in the Los Angeles area. He said a ban makes things easier, but he is not sure if it is effective enough. He said he is hearing from store owners who are concerned about the ban on plastic carry-out bags.

Falciani is not yet convinced of the need for a plastic bag ban, yet does not want to dissuade anyone from supporting the plastic bag and polystyrene bans.

He has observed people carrying reusable shopping bags into at the local supermarket and seen there is already significant use. "Nearly 40 percent of people at Hannaford are using reusable bags." He said that, around the world, that is the same percentage of reusable bags that occurs after a plastic bag ordinance is initially adopted.

"I'm really impressed by this town and its conservation perspective," he said.

He sees plastic pollution as a huge problem globally, but believes plastic bags are a very small proportion that problem locally and worldwide.  He favors more work on "an interim measure regarding recycling plastic bags" and suggested that this could be done by the Wastewatch committee of the Mid-Coast Solid Waste Corporation.

Lookner motioned to set up a public hearing on the single use plastic bag ban and paper bag fee, and the polystyrene take-out container ban.

Ratner strongly urged board members to move the proposed ordinances forward to a public hearing, and to voters in November.

Proposed Single Bag Ordinance, polystyrene container ban

Retail establishments would be prohibited from providing single-use carry-out plastic bags to customers at check-out. Stores may sell single-use carry-out paper, compostable or biodegradable bags for 10 cents per bag. The stores are allowed to keep fees collected for the sale of single-use paper carry-out bags.

Retail establishment are defined as "any business of any size which sells goods directly to the public."

Stores are defined as "full-line, self-service markets located in a permanent building, operating year-round, and which sells at retail a line of staple foodstuffs or at least one of on the following: meats, produce, dairy products or other perishable items, and a drug store, pharmacy, supermarket, grocery store, convenience food store, food mart, or other entity engaged in the retail sale of a limited line of goods that include milk, bread, soda and snack foods." Restaurants are excluded from the plastic bag ban.

Proposed fines for violating the plastic carry-out bag ban and paper carry-out bag fee  are up to $100 for the first violation after a warning in a one-year period, and up to $250 for the second and each subsequent violation in a one-year period.

The ordinance describes polystyrene foam as a petroleum-based plastic made from the styrene monomer, which is not easily recycled. When littered or discarded, polystyrene creates undesirable impacts on water quality, storm water, and wildlife, according to the ordinance, because it easily disintegrates into small particles and becomes difficult to retrieve. Alternatives that are reusable, recyclable or compostable, are already on the market and readily available, according to the ordinance.

The ban would prohibit retail vendors in Camden from serving or selling prepared food in polystyrene foam containers. The ban extends to packaging meat, eggs, bakery products or other food in polystyrene containers. The sale of polystyrene food and beverage containers will also be prohibited.

The town of Camden will be prohibited from using these food and beverage containers at its facilities and town-sponsored events. Vendors who contract with the town will be prohibited from using the containers in Camden facilities or on municipal projects in Camden.

Retailers, contractors and others affected by the ban can request exemptions for a certain period of time based on hardship or public health and safety reasons. Fines for violations of the ban are up to $250 for the first, and up to $500 for subsequent violations.

In 1990, the State of Maine banned such products at facilities and functions of the state.

History

The Conservation Commission has played a leadership role in promoting measures to improve water quality in Camden. One of these efforts is an ordinance approved by voters in 2017 to phase out within five years, the use of unencapsulated polystyrene flotation in docks and floats in Camden's harbor, lakes, ponds and rivers.

Proposals to limit the single-use plastic and paper carry-out bags have been discussed before the select board numerous times this year. An earlier version of the carry-out bag ordinance proposed a fee for both plastic and paper grocery bags.

In April, Bob Jocelyn, manager of the Camden Hannaford Supermarket, and George Parmenter, Hannaford's sustainability manager, shared their experiences with bag bans and fees, in areas where Hannaford stores are located, and answered questions about polystyrene packaging alternatives. Saying they do not get involved in local debates about the issue, Parmenter said if a town bans plastic carry-out bags, Hannaford complies. Jocelyn has seen the increase in the use of reusable bags, and an "astronomical" rise in the use of carry-out paper bags when Belfast banned plastic bags. Belfast does not charge a fee for paper bags. If a town bans polystrene containers, Hannaford has other packing materials it can use for products packaged within the store, but it cannot alter food packaging containing polystyrene which is shipped to the store.


Comments (1)
Posted by: Donald Herrick | Aug 09, 2018 20:08

when you consider all the plastic that comes from grocery stores it seems idiotic to ban the small bags it all gets put in. remember what forest gump said,(stupid is as stupid does)



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