Some store owners are surprised by how many shoppers remember to bring their reusable bags.
By Randy Billings and Beth Quimby, Staff Writers
Portland Press Herald news story
Store owners are required by a city ordinance, enacted by the City Council last June, to post a sign informing customers about the fee and itemize the bag fee on their receipts. Store owners keep the revenue from the bag fees.
Portland is the first city in the state to adopt a disposable bag fee, joining more than 150 other communities nationwide. Several other communities, including Freeport, are considering bag fees or bans.
“Surprisingly a lot of people are bringing in their own bags,” said Joe Nappi, owner of the Mellen Street Market in Portland’s Parkside neighborhood.
Nappi said he put up a sign at the first of the month alerting customers to the impending fee. He figured most people would not pay attention. But after April 15, when the fee when into effect, he noticed more people bringing in their own bags.
Portland Mayor Michael Brennan said he hasn’t received any complaints since the ordinance took effect last week.
“At this particular point, I don’t think there have been any major problems with the ordinance,” Brennan said Monday. “We are certainly going to continue to monitor it and follow up on it.”
Portland’s bag fee is different from most other programs in the country because it’s relatively small (most fees are 10 cents) and the city does not receive any of the revenue for educational or environmental cleanup efforts.
Environmentalists in Washington, D.C., have boasted that a 5-cent bag fee there has resulted in a 60 percent drop in bag usage since the fee took effect in 2010. However, The Washington Post reported in January 2014 that the city, which receives 3 or 4 cents per bag, has not seen a decrease in revenue generated from the bags, pulling in $150,000 to $200,000 a month – money that is devoted to cleaning up the Anacostia River.
The steady revenue stream indicates consumers have not been using more reusable bags and instead are simply paying the fee for disposables.
Nappi said he has not yet figured out whether people have changed their behavior for economic or environmental reasons. But the impact on his cash flow became clear quickly.”It is not a moneymaker,” said Nappi.
Elliot Armbruster, assistant manager at Colucci’s Hilltop Superette on Congress Street, said most customers are reacting positively to the bag fee. He said store personnel alert customers to the fee when they pay at the register. Some customers decline a bag at that point. “So it is working in that sense,” said Armbruster.
Customers at the Shaw’s Supermarket at Westgate Plaza appear to be adapting to the fee without complaint, said store manager Brett Sawyer.
Sawyer said there appears to be an increase in the number of customers showing up with their own reusable bags at the checkout counter.
“I noticed with small orders, they just carry it out in their hands,” said Sawyer.
He said he has spotted some customers presenting used paper bags to the baggers.
Some shoppers at the Hannaford Supermarket on Forest Avenue said the bag fee has had little impact on them. Sixteen of the 30 shoppers observed leaving the store Sunday were using reusable bags while 10 were pushing carts laden with plastic and paper bags. Four shoppers were carrying unbagged items in their hands.
“It’s not a behavior change for me,” said John Rooks of Portland, who pushed a cart filled with bags, including a few plastic bags he reuses over and over.
Josh Biermann of Portland, shopping with his son, Luke, 4 months, put the groceries he couldn’t fit into his reusable shopping bags straight into the cart. Biermann said he has long eschewed disposable bags.
“These bags are from way before,” Biermann said, pointing to his collection.
Nevin Duffey of Portland walked across the parking lot with a roll of paper towels in one hand and a package of grape tomatoes in the other. He said he didn’t support the fee at first, but now he doesn’t mind.
“As long as the store donates the proceeds to charity,” said Duffey.