Comments at Portland City Council meeting
My name is Sarah Lakeman, I am the Sustainable Maine Policy Advocate and Outreach Coordinator for the Natural Resources Council of Maine. I am speaking as a Portland resident and on behalf of NRCM’s more than 16,000 members and supporters, of which more than 1,100 are residents of Portland. I appreciate the opportunity to present comments in support of a fee placed on single-use disposable bags in the City of Portland.
NRCM is confident that the City will reap significant financial and environmental benefits by adopting an ordinance that discourages the proliferation of single-use disposable bags in favor of reusable ones. The fee-based approach will work to change behavior in a way that drastically reduces the use of these unnecessary bags that end up clogging storm drains, jamming recycling equipment, getting entangled in trees, and floating around in Casco Bay.
There are more than 20 countries around the world and more than 150 communities across the country that have successfully eliminated tens of millions of disposable bags by adopting ordinances like the one before you today. Based on the same principle behind Portland’s successful Pay-as-You-Throw program for solid waste, a fee on disposable bags discourages their use and changes consumer behavior, which is why these programs are succeeding in ways that voluntary educational campaigns simply do not.
In 2009, under legislative directive, NRCM collaborated with the Maine Merchants Association, Maine Grocers Association, and the Maine State Planning Office to form a 14-member working group to explore creating a voluntary program, as opposed to a statewide ban or fee on disposable bags, which resulted in the Got Your Bags, Maine? campaign.
This campaign is pointed to in the Minority Report as an alternative to the proposed ordinance. However, we believe that City Council members should understand that the Got Your Bags campaign has fallen far short of its goals, and we can’t help but conclude that it has done little to reduce the use of disposable bags.
Although a number of stores in Maine are doing a good job promoting reusable bags, and some actually display the campaign logo, such as Hannaford and Shaws, there is no evidence that the campaign’s goal of reducing plastic bag use by 33% by 2013 has been achieved or that the target number of 1,000 retailers are participating.
The overall level of effort by the Maine Grocers Association and Maine Retailers Association has largely dissipated as evidenced by the collapse of public education and outreach efforts. For example, the Got Your Bags website is no longer active, the Facebook page has only six new posts in the past year, and the campaign’s Twitter account shows zero tweets in the past two years.
With the passage of time, and learning from the successes of other cities, we can now see that this educational campaign-based alternative is unlikely to be anywhere near as successful as fee-based programs. Bans and fees on disposable bags are reducing the use of these bags by 60 to 90 percent. Doing that here in Portland would be a big deal, and we should do it.
Ten years from now, we believe most children will be surprised to learn that there was a time when disposable bags were handed out routinely at stores only to be thrown away minutes later when the bags were unloaded at home.
We applaud the work of the Green Packaging Task Force and believe that Portland should join the growing list of cities across the nation taking action to sharply reduce the use of single-use disposable bags. However, NRCM suggests that the committee evaluate the possibility of a 5 cent fee instead of 10 cents, as well as ways to reduce the administrative burden that could be created through the 60/40 split. In some communities, the store retains the full fee, although must report it as taxable income. We also urge the committee to exempt dry-cleaner garment bags since there is no readily available and affordable alternative. Such bags typically are not subject to the fee in other cities.
The Natural Resources Council of Maine strongly believes that this ordinance is a common sense step toward a more sustainable community. We urge Portland to be on the leading edge of this change, and not simply sit on the sidelines and watch it happen elsewhere. Thank you for the opportunity to comment, and I would be glad to answer any questions you may have.