By Deborah McDermott
Seacoastonline.com news story
YORK – York could be among the pioneers in Maine, and even across the nation, in creating an ordinance to charge retail customers to use single-use plastic or paper bags.
Portland has passed a similar measure, and Falmouth and Brunswick/Topsham are also exploring an ordinance, as are city councilors in Portsmouth, N.H. Nationwide, an estimated 150 communities have instituted some sort of single-use bag law, according to the Natural Resources Council of Maine.
Under York’s proposal, retailers like Hannaford, convenience stores and Rite Aid Pharmacy that sell food products would charge 5 cents per single-use bag, with money generated from the sale remaining with the retailer. Only those stores with food sales comprising more than 2 percent would fall under the ordinance.
The ordinance is being proposed by the group Bring Your Own Bag York, which formed in October of 2013 primarily to educate residents about “the serious problems of plastic pollution,” said member Victoria Simon.
Of clear importance for the group are the implications for the ocean from “micro plastics” from bags. The EPA has developed and provided information on reducing plastic pollution in ocean waters, after it had been petitioned by environmental organizations.
Single-use bags, BYOB members say, are wasteful because they are typically used once and discarded – ending up in landfills where they can last for hundreds of years.
To date, the group has been trying to educate people about the benefits of using reusable cloth bags, Simon said, with tables at Marketfest, the May polls and the York Farmers Market, but she said the group felt it was time to go to the next level.
“Experience has shown that imposing a fee on single use carryout bags results in significant reduction in plastic bag use, similar to an outright ban,” said member Chris Hartwell.
Perhaps the largest user of the bags in York, and arguably across Maine, Hannaford Supermarkets, is officially neutral on the subject. Hannaford does encourage customers to bring reusable bags, but provides plastic single-use bags for its customers.
“Our stance is it’s really a decision for town residents to make. We took no position in Portland, and we’re working hard to make it as seamless as possible for our customers” when the city’s ordinance goes into effect in April, said spokesman Eric Bloom. “We will pay attention to the process in York and try to understand what the proposal calls for. And we’ll certainly comply with whatever is put in place.”
Mark Graziano at Anthony’s Food Shop has mixed feelings about the proposal.
“The thought behind it is good, but I don’t know how it’s going to work out practically,” he said.
He said currently, perhaps one customer in the course of a day brings in a reusable bag.
“As a retailer, I don’t want people walking around my store putting stuff in a bag,” Graziano said.
He also is concerned about the message it sends to summer visitors that York is going to charge them 5 cents for a bag.
“Maybe they won’t notice. But you know, maybe they will,” he said.
Most selectmen agree in principal with the concept of the ordinance but said the devil is in the details.
“Quite frankly, I would ban plastic bags entirely,” said Jon Speer at a recent board meeting. But he said he’d like to hear from the public and also had some concerns about the town’s legal vulnerability if it enacted such an ordinance.
Torbert Macdonald agreed that plastic “is a bane. Personally I’d like to see a complete ban on plastic bags and a dime on paper bags.”
Having said that, Macdonald said he was concerned about the impact of the ordinance on smaller convenience stores, which under the proposal would have to keep records of plastic bags sold.
“It seems like a heavy burden on small store owners,” he said.
BYOB York had initially proposed putting the measure on the ballot in May, but selectmen said they were not inclined to hurry the process. If they set a November ballot deadline, there would be sufficient time for public input, they said.
A first hearing on the proposal is set for the March 23 selectmen’s meeting.