The town would be the first in Maine to institute an outright ban on the use of plastic shopping bags by all retailers.
By Matt Byrne, Staff Writer
Portland Press Herald news story
Falmouth moved one step closer Wednesday to becoming the first community in Maine to ban stores from issuing single-use plastic bags, after residents endorsed the idea at the first public hearing on the proposed ordinance.
About a dozen people spoke during the half-hour comment session at a Town Council meeting, and nearly all favored a plan that would first impose a fee on plastic and paper shopping bags given out by the town’s largest retailers, and then ban the use of plastic bags in all town stores a year later.
There would be exceptions for products that require plastic packaging, such as raw meats or leaky foods, or when a bag is required to protect a product, such as for dry cleaning.
In the first year, the bag fees would be levied only at the six stores in Falmouth that are larger than 10,000 square feet: Hannaford supermarket, Wal-Mart, Rite Aid, Shaw’s supermarket, Staples and Goodwill. In the second year, plastic bags would be banned at all stores, and the retailers would be given the option of charging a fee for paper bags.
The measure comes after a year of study by the Falmouth recycling committee, which determined that a fee alone – similar to the ordinance implemented this spring in Portland – wouldn’t go far enough. Residents who spoke largely agreed.
Tyler Kidder, who served on the committee that helped shape Portland’s recently implemented nickel fee for plastic and paper shopping bags, was glad to see Falmouth pursuing a stricter version.
“Throughout the consensus process I wish that we had gone further,” Kidder said. “So I’m pleased to see that my hometown is going for a ban.”
At about a penny apiece, the plastic bags are cheap for stores to supply and convenient for customers. But they often live a second, unwanted life, snagged in tree branches or floating in streams and culverts. When exposed to sunlight, the bags eventually become brittle and break down into tiny particles that can infiltrate waterways, sometimes even showing up in the bellies of fish and birds who mistake the bits for food.
The recycling committee estimates that about 2 million plastic bags are handed out annually in Falmouth, which eventually contribute to the 269,000 tons of plastic estimated to be floating in the world’s oceans.
Recent studies have found that about half of all sea turtles and 90 percent of sea birds have ingested some form of plastic.
“I don’t even like to look at the turtle pictures anymore,” said Cathy Nichols, a member of the Falmouth recycling committee, as she showed an image of a baby sea turtle eating a sliver of blue plastic. “It’s a long slow death.”
There were some at the meeting who expressed doubt, however.
Craig Baranowski doubted whether the town’s recycling committee, which drafted the proposal, has done enough outreach to residents and businesses. He also said he is resistant to the idea of eliminating an option for shoppers.
“You’ve removed my ability to have a choice as to what I can use in the store,” Baranowski said. “If it’s such a pressing issue to the community, put it out to a vote.”
Michael Doyle suggested the policy reflects a small group of people on the committee and does not fully represent the feelings of most town residents.
The town’s ordinance committee will begin drafting language at its next meeting in early October, with the Town Council taking up a final proposal later in the month.