Chamber moves to help businesses
By Deborah McDermott
Seacoast Online news story
YORK, Maine — Now that the first-in-the-state ordinance banning single-use plastic bags has been approved, the town’s business leaders, citizens and officials are shifting gears and preparing for the March 1 effective date.
Residents last week approved the ordinance by a vote of 1,469 in favor to 1,151 opposed. It outlaws all plastic bags with a built-in handle such as those used at Hannaford supermarket and Rite Aid. Paper bags can still be used, as can a variety of plastic bags and sheaths used for everything from dry cleaning to newspaper delivery.
The ban will not affect some of the town’s larger retailers, such as Stonewall Kitchen and Eldredge Lumber and Hardware, which already do not use single-use bags. But it’s uncertain just what kind of a reach the plastic bags have in the broader York business community as owners did not voice concern about the ordinance prior to the election, said Greater York Region Chamber of Commerce President Holly Roberts.
Roberts said the chamber this week is going to poll its members on whether the ban will be affecting them and how the town and the chamber can help with the transition.
“We’d like to hear what they’re going to be doing for the changeover,” said Roberts. Anticipating that one concern might be what to do with leftover plastic bags, she said perhaps the chamber could coordinate a recycling effort.
Town Manager Steve Burns stressed that at least initially the town “is probably not going to make a federal case” about infractions of the ban. “I suspect there will be some glitches going into it, but they’ll get straightened out.”
The town’s ordinance is based on a similar one in Newburyport, Mass., which went into effect in March. Molly Ettenborough, recycling and energy manager for the city, said Newburyport put a lot if its effort into business outreach in the months after the ban was approved. They sent out letters to all businesses and then organized a group that met with owners individually.
“We did allow people to phase in compliant bags if they were not part of a franchise and had a supply of bags to use up,” she said. The city also made town signs and provided templates for businesses to create signs, as well.
The York-based company PS It Matters, which gives a portion of products it sells to charitable organizations, is exploring reusable bag options for York retailers. The company has been working with Hannaford supermarkets on a recent all-store promotion, in which $1 from the sale of certain reusable bags goes to a local charity.
That kind of idea is currently being explored for all York retailers according to Jim Brennan, CEO of PS It Matters. Brennan said the company is investigating costs right now, and will probably do some York-specific test marketing in January and February. For instance, he said, maybe it makes sense from a price standpoint to come up with a York logo on the bag that can be used by all retailers, as opposed to a business-specific logo.
“If we can find something in the $3 range, and give a portion back to the community, we probably would do it,” Brennan said.
Hannaford supermarkets, which took no position on the York bag proposal prior to the vote, has not yet discussed how it will move forward in implementing the ban, said spokesperson Eric Conrad. He said he expects the company’s practice will be similar to that in Portland, which instituted a 5-cent charge of paper and plastic bags.
“I expect we’ll put up signage in stores as it gets close to implementation and help our associates understand what the new requirements are to make it as smooth as possible,” he said.
While now more than 80 percent of all Hannaford customers in Portland have switched to reusable bags, he said, he notes that they do not have the option of a free paper bag, as will be the case in York. He said where a plastic bag ban only has gone into effect in other parts of the country, people tend to just use paper bags.
That is something Victoria Simon of Bring York Own Bag York is hoping does not happen here.
“The goal is not to switch from plastic to paper,” she said. “The goal is for everybody to have reusable bags on hand. We want paper to be there as a backup, but not the first choice.”
Burns said he will be coming up with a plan for York’s rollout of the ordinance in the coming months. But he said one thing is clear to him: voters wanted this.
“Fifty-seven percent voted for this. That’s a bigger margin than there was for the formula (fast food) restaurant ban” in the 1990s. “That was 55 percent. As a potentially controversial ordinance goes, it’s a pretty solid win.”