Belfast just became the tenth Maine town to adopt an ordinance to reduce the use of single-use plastic bags! On August 15, the Belfast City Council passed the ordinance, which bans single-use plastic bags. And, while they were at it, councilors also voted to ban foam food packaging, adding Belfast to the growing list of Maine towns addressing this wasteful use of this non-recyclable material. The council vote was unanimous in both cases. Thanks to strong participation by local residents who helped to shape the ordinance, the public hearings were packed with people who wanted to support the council in its efforts to create a more sustainable Belfast—and Maine!
Ban the Bag in Belfast, a small group of concerned citizens, decided to take action after becoming alarmed by revelations that every liter of ocean water in Penobscot Bay contains 17 particles of plastic. This group contacted NRCM Sustainable Maine Director Sarah Nichols for advice, and used NRCM’s Sustainable Maine Communities Toolkits. They researched, met with business owners, and patiently worked with the Belfast City Council for more than a year to ensure the ordinances were as strong as possible and would benefit the City in at least two important ways.
First, the ordinances that passed will help Belfast reduce or eliminate unsightly, dangerous, and expensive litter. Plastic bag litter is estimated to cost municipalities between 17 and 79 cents per bag to pick up and remove. Plastic lasts for a very long time in our environment, breaking down into micro-particles but never disappearing. Instead, it is being mistaken as food and eaten by sea creatures, enters the food chain. And who wants to see those ubiquitous plastic bags tangled in trees, tumbling down the road, pressed against a quaint picket fence, clogging a storm a drain, or floating down the Passagassawakeag, alongside a kayak?
Second, these ordinances help establish Belfast be a leader in Maine. NRCM is working hard at the Maine Legislature to advocate for state-level policies to address the detrimental effects of these plastic materials on Maine’s environment and our natural resource industries such as seafood and tourism. This session, NRCM supported LD 57, which made it further in the legislative process than any bill so far to address plastic bags and foam containers. The bill passed the Senate and House but was vetoed by the governor. In the absence of action on this issue at the state level, leadership from Maine towns and citizens is critical!
Belfast’s ordinances will go into effect January 1, 2018, giving retailers a few months to use up their existing inventory and make plans to offer more sustainable alternatives. Ban the Bag in Belfast is now working to help the City ensure the implementation is smooth and that reusable bags are the alternative of choice. Congratulations, Belfast!
Our sustainability radar is always on, and we love to share. Do you have information about a great project helping to make Maine a more sustainable place to call home that you would like to see featured on NRCM’s blog? Guest posts and alerts about interesting sustainability stories are always welcome! If it is good news for our environment and involves Maine or Mainers, it belongs in the spotlight. Please contact Sarah Nichols, NRCM Sustainable Maine Director at firstname.lastname@example.org or (207) 430-0170.