2016-11-17 / News

Council considers banning plastic bags

By Anthony Aloisio
Staff Writer

SACO – City Councilors Roger Gay and Eric Cote are proponents of a new city ordinance that would restrict and regulate the use of single-use plastic and paper bags typically used by shoppers to carry groceries or other small items. The purpose of ordinances like the one considered is environmental protection. The ordinance was introduced as a discussion item at the city’s Monday, Nov. 15 workshop and no decisions have yet been made about it. The initial form of the ordinance follows the language of a similar ordinances adopted in Freeport.

“It is important to keep the city of Saco as litter-free as possible to enhance the quality of life for Saco’s residents and visitors,” reads the draft of the ordinance. “Saco is a coastal community with a vested interest in protecting the ocean environment from plastic debris.”

The effect of the ordinance, in its current form, would be to completely prohibit the use of plastic single-use bags. Paper bags would be allowed, but stores would be required to charge a minimum of 5 cents per bag – money the store simply keeps. The ordinance explicitly anticipates that use of single-use bags would be replaced by re-usable bags.

The ordinance would apply to grocery stores, convenience stores, drug stores, markets and supermarkets, among other similar establishments. However, the language appears to be further limited to “retail establishments located within the city of Saco engaged in the sale of perishable or nonperishable foods.”

Violations of the ordinance would be punishable by a $250 fine for the first offense in a one-year period, and $500 for subsequent offenses within a year.

“We live in a state with trees,” said Ward 1 Concilor David Precourt.

He argued that use of paper bags was a benefit to Maine. Precourt, who was critical of the ordinance, said “it’s a renewable resource, it’s jobs.”

In support of the ordinance, Cote, who represents Ward 6, cited a news article about a similar ordinance passed in Topsham.

“It says in this article (plastic bags) kill 100,000 marine animals a year,” Cote said.

“We have take some charge here,” Cote continued. “This is terrible, that’s why these other coastal communities are doing this. We’re eighth or ninth in the state to do this.”

“Most of the people I’ve talked to are already using carry-out bags,” said Ward 2 Councilor Roger Gay.

“My wife uses reusable bags,” Precourt said. “She doesn’t need to have a law to do it. If people feel that strongly about doing something they can do it on their own.”

Ward 3 Councilor William Doyle was skeptical that the ordinance would be effective.

“There’s a lot of people out there that don’t care about the environment,” Doyle said. “If there’s no recourse other than they just pay the 5 cents, that’s what they’re gonna do.”

“According to this article, that’s not what’s happened in Portland,” Cote responded.

“Yes it’s admirable goal, and, yeah, I think it’s important to do this,” said Ward 5 Councilor Alan Minthorn, “but maybe we should do something in the way of a public relations campaign to encourage our citizens to utilize the reusable bags and all that, and not burden our businesses with one more onerous feelgood type piece of legislation.”

At the end of the discussion, Precourt proposed a change to the ordinance to allow for paper bags without the fee of 5 cents.

“I think the most important goal here is getting rid of the plastic,” said City Planner Bob Hamblen, who is the staff resource for the ordinance item.

The drafted ordinance was not formally disposed of. It may return to be edited by the council before being offered for first reading.

Contact Staff Writer Anthony Aloisio at news@inthecourier.com.

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