While more than 100 communities nationwide charge fees for disposable shopping bags or ban them outright, far fewer also prohibit the polystyrene often used in coffee cups and to-go food containers.
By Kevin Miller, Staff Writer
Portland Press Herald news story
Portland businesses are phasing out foam containers and gearing up to charge customers a nickel for disposable shopping bags ahead of two new “green packaging” policies that take effect next month.
On April 15, Portland will become the first city in Maine and one of just a handful in New England to both impose a fee on disposable plastic or paper shopping bags and to ban many businesses from using polystyrene food and beverage containers.
The Portland City Council passed both initiatives last June in hopes of reducing the amount of non-biodegradable trash that ends up on city streets, in storm drains and eventually in Casco Bay. Numerous businesses opposed the measures last year and, not surprisingly, still aren’t thrilled nine months later.
“It starts April 15th and we’ll see what happens then,” said Bob Harrigan, owner of Harrigan’s Island Market on Peaks Island, who regards the two policies as another cost burden for businesses and customers. “But it is what it is. It’s Portland.”
Others are excited about – rather than exasperated by – Portland’s new green policies, however.
Sarah Lakeman, a Portland resident who works as the Natural Resources Council of Maine’s sustainable Maine projects director, said bag fees are now being discussed in York, Falmouth, Brunswick, Topsham and Freeport. In fact, York selectmen will hold a public hearing next Monday on a proposed bag fee modeled after Portland’s policy.
“I think a lot of towns in Maine look to Portland and then follow suit,” Lakeman said.
One major Portland retailer, the Hannaford supermarket, announced its own consumer education campaign on Tuesday.
Between March 29 and April 14, Hannaford will bag all groceries at the chain’s two Portland stores in reusable bags that will be given to customers for free. Hannaford will also donate 25 cents for each reusable bag and all proceeds from the 5-cent bag fee to local hunger relief programs.
On the polystyrene packaging side, spokesman Eric Blom said the stores will use alternatives for meats that are package in-store and will no longer sell foam products, such as disposable plates and cups. Products that arrived at the store in foam packaging – such as raw meats – are not affected by the ban.
Portland is the first community hosting Hannaford stores to adopt either a bag fee or a foam ban.
“There is an awful lot going on behind the scenes to make sure it is as easy as possible for customers,” Blom said. “We customize programs for all of our stores, so in that sense it is not unusual. The challenge with this is it’s the first we have done.”
More than 130 communities across the country – including major cities such as Washington, DC – have adopted either disposable bag fees ranging from 5 to 25 cents for each bag or have banned plastic bags altogether. California’s Legislature passed a statewide ban last year, although bag and plastics manufacturers are organizing a referendum campaign to overturn the ban at the ballot box in November 2016.
Far fewer communities have passed ordinances banning the type of polystyrene containers – often referred to by the trade name Styrofoam – used in coffee cups and take-out food orders. Freeport, Maine, has banned foam containers since the early 1990s and Maine state government prohibits food service vendors from using polystyrene at state-owned facilities.
On April 15, Portland will begin requiring most retailers to collect 5 cents for disposable plastic or paper bags. The bag fee will apply at stores where food – including milk, bread, soda and snacks – constitutes at least 2 percent of gross sales.
In a compromise aimed at softening opposition within the business community, retailers will be able to keep those nickels.
Last week, the city of Portland sent a letter to more than 500 businesses reminding them about the coming changes and offering assistance to owners as they make the transition.
“The City of Portland joins many jurisdictions around the globe that have chosen to adopt packaging ordinances in order to reduce waste generation, reduce litter in the environment and to promote the use of recyclable packaging whenever possible,” reads the letter from Troy Moon, manager of the city’s environmental programs and open space. “We look forward to working with you to achieve these goals that will enhance the appearance of the city and protect the health of the environment, including our waterways and Casco Bay.”