Selectmen to hold July 27 public hearing on proposed ordinance
YORK, Maine — To help raise awareness of the negative impact plastic bags have on the environment, Bring York Own Bag York held a T-shirt bag making party Wednesday.
Using new or old T-shirts, individuals created sturdy, easy to make and reusable bags with the plan to give them away at the Farmers’ Market and at the polls during Saturday’s vote on the police station. The group also plans to donate the bags to the food pantry and the Senior Center.
“I have been concerned about plastic bags since they started coming out,” said Victoria Simon, a member of Bring York Own Bag York, a small committee which has been seeking to educate the town about the hazards of plastic bags. “It just seemed to be so obviously wrong from the get go.”
Simon said about 15 years ago she made the commitment to only use reusable bags and her passion to eliminate plastic has only grown stronger. “It was so easy. I thought, why isn’t everybody doing this?” Simon said.
In 2009, the state of Maine did a project titled Got Your Bag Maine, that was enacted statewide. Signs were put up in Hannafords and other locations asking if you had your reusable bag with you. In 2013, Simon tried researching the success of the movement, but find no data on its results.
Motivated to bring the movement back to the surface, BYOB York began making a change. After sending out surveys and researching other cities and towns on their plastic bag laws, the committee was inspired to seek a plastic bag ban in their town. Its first proposal, which was not supported by the Board of Selectmen, would have been similar to one in Portland, where shoppers pay 5 cents to receive a plastic bag. Selectmen said they thought the idea was inconvenient and would be too difficult to track.
But selectmen recently supported holding a public hearing on a town-wide plastic bag ban at their July 27 meeting, followed by another in August. The ordinance calls for a ban on plastic, with no fee on paper bags, but that the paper bag has to be recyclable. The ordinance would cover all businesses that use plastic bags.
“Plastic bags are the second of the 10 most prevalent marine debris,” Simon said.
With an average operating life of only 20 minutes, plastic bags last in the landfill “basically forever,” Simon said. “If they end up in the ocean, they don’t degrade, they photo-degrade, which means they break up into smaller and smaller particles, and fish are ingesting those particles and we are eating that.”
Essentially, plastic bags either end up in the landfill or in the ocean, and while people talk about recycling, Simon said research shows that is rarely the case.
“The facts are that no more than 10 percent of these bags are actually recycled, and they are not made into other bags, so we still keep producing more and more bags. They might be up-cycled to other plastic things, but it all ends up in a landfill, ultimately,” Simon explained.
While making the reusable bags Wednesday, Simon said her grandchildren are her inspiration and it is “really about the world that they inherit.”
“We’re making the bags because if we use plastic bags, they could go into the ocean, and sea turtles like to eat jelly fish, so the sea turtles could think that the plastic bags are jelly fish,” explained Simon’s 7-year-old-granddaughter, Anne. “They could eat the plastic bags and they could get really hurt by that.”
The goal is for the proposed plastic bag ban to be on the November ballot.
“If we pass in November, we will be the first town in the country to have passed it by the voters,” Simon said. “It would be really progressive, a really a big statement to other towns that we can do this.”