The City Council also bans the use of polystyrene packaging.
By Dennis Hoey, Staff Writer
Portland Press Herald news story
SOUTH PORTLAND — The city of South Portland joined Portland on Monday night as the only municipalities in Maine that have adopted ordinances requiring consumers to pay 5 cents for disposable, plastic shopping bags at supermarkets and other stores that sell food.
South Portland city councilors also voted Monday to adopt a ban on the use of polystyrene packaging. Portland and Freeport have already passed bans on polystyrene, commonly referred to as Styrofoam.
South Portland’s single-use bag ordinance and the ban on polystyrene will go into effect on March 1, 2016, allowing time for the city to educate the public as well as merchants.
While most major grocery store chains, like Hannaford and Shaw’s, that sell a full line of foodstuffs year-round will have to comply with the new ordinance, it will not apply to businesses at which foodstuffs are “an incidental part of the business.” The city ordinance says a business is exempt if no more than 2 percent of its gross sales comprise foodstuffs.
“We hope that once we get to March 1 that this ordinance will not be a surprise to anyone,” City Manager James Gailey said.
The amendments to the city’s garbage and refuse ordinance were unanimously approved by the City Council on first reading Sept. 9, making Monday night’s second reading and vote more of a formality than anything else.
But two councilors, led by Thomas Blake, nearly derailed the bag fee change, asking the council to send the issue to another workshop, at which it could weigh the possibility of completely banning the use of plastic shopping bags effective in March 2017.
Blake argued that local businesses such as Hannaford and Shaw’s will profit from the new ordinance – stores get to keep the profits from every bag they sell – while consumers will be punished by having to pay 5 cents for every plastic bag they use. The ordinance is designed to discourage the use of plastic bags and get consumers to start using reusable bags.
“It’s not a bad ordinance, but we can do better,” Blake said. “Why are we treating plastic bags so differently? Why don’t we ban plastic bags?”
Blake suggested South Portland follow the town of Falmouth’s lead. Falmouth is considering an ordinance that would charge shoppers for single-use plastic bags initially before banning plastic bags at the town’s largest stores after one year. In the second year, plastic bags would be banned at all stores.
Councilor Melissa Linscott said she shared Blake’s views, and Councilor Maxine Beecher seemed to be leaning in that direction, but after a lengthy discussion the council voted 5-2 against sending the issue to a workshop.
“We’re not here to penalize people,” Councilor Claude Morgan said. “We’re here to change behaviors and a way of living. Don’t get pulled back. Don’t let this drag on forever.”
City officials said that while many people believe plastic bags are recyclable or biodegradable, they are not environmentally friendly. Many bags are finding their way into landfills, waste-to-energy plants and into the environment.
Mayor Linda Cohen said she likes the prospect of having an ordinance that is consistent with Portland’s ordinance, and she said she has not received complaints from constituents who say they can’t afford the 5-cent-per-bag fee.
“I don’t see any reasons to go back to a workshop. We are taking baby steps in this community,” Cohen said.
More than 150 communities nationwide have passed laws that encourage the use of environmentally friendly reusable bags. Portland adopted a similar ordinance in April.
Over 95 cities across the United States have banned the use or sale of polystyrene. Polystyrene is a petroleum-based plastic that is not easily recycled, and when it is discarded, it can cause environmental harm to water quality and wildlife.
Gailey said the new ordinance requires that:
• Stores make single-use bags available for 5 cents each.
• Any money collected be used by the store for lawful purposes.
• All stores post signs indicating the change in bag policy.
• Stores keep records of the purchase and sale of single-use bags for a minimum of three years.
Gailey said the packaging and storage of raw seafood is exempt from the ban on polystyrene.
Anyone found in violation of the polystyrene ordinance, and who has received an initial warning, could be fined $250. Repeat violations will be subject to a fine of up to $500.