Bath council backs ban on plastic bags, foam containers

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BATH — The City Council on Wednesday granted unanimous first passage to ordinances that would ban the distribution of disposable plastic shopping bags and polystyrene containers.

The panel will vote a second and final time Nov. 1.

The decision follows two “Bring Your Own Bag” forums hosted last month by Bath’s Solid Waste Advisory Committee, which has studied the issue since January.

Public opinion at Wednesday’s meeting was favorable toward the ordinances, similar to what Public Works Director Lee Leiner said he experienced at the forums.

The committee has also reached out to merchants, some of whom support the bans, Leiner said. None were overly against it, he added.

The new rules would take effect April 22, 2018 – Earth Day – after a community education program is conducted. That would also allow time for businesses to use up their disposable bag stock, Leiner noted.

The policy is meant to clean up the city’s environment by getting rid of bags that clog storm drains, adversely impact wildlife and waterways, and do not biodegrade, Leiner explained in a Sept. 26 memo to the council.

Speaking in support of both bans, Gretta Wark of 25 Meadow Way said she had heard that “the average life amount of time one tends to use a plastic bag, between obtaining it and emptying and trashing it, is about 12 minutes – usually the trip from the store back home.

“That seems like the most anti-Maine thing I’ve ever heard,” she said.

Wark pointed to the amount of plastic that ends up in the ocean, noting that the Marine and Environmental Research Institute in Blue Hill determined there are 177 micro-pieces of plastic per liter of ocean water off the coast.

The solid waste group wants a ban on non-reusable bags distributed at all Bath businesses. Although paper bags would remain available, they would be assessed a charge of 5 cents per bag the first year, 10 cents the second, and 15 cents from the third year forward. Businesses would retain bag revenues.

The escalated fees are intended to wean consumers off store-distributed bags in favor of bringing their own, according to Leiner. Businesses can also choose not to offer paper bags.

Bags without handles that are used to carry meat, produce, seafood and prescriptions are exempt from the ordinance, along with bags distributed at  short-term festivals, fairs, and flea markets.

Reusable bags – made for repeated usage, and able to be cleaned or disinfected – would be encouraged. If composed of plastic, such bags would be at least 2.25 mils thick, have handles, and support at least 18 pounds.

Businesses would be able to give away or sell their own bags that meet reusable bag standards, and “Bath Bags” would be created and distributed as part of the public education process.

The committee considers paper bags a substitute for bags made of plastic, since they biodegrade in the environment and are made from renewable resources. However, paper bag manufacturing requires more water and energy, and more fossil fuels are necessary to transport the heavier containers, according to the committee, which also noted that no paper bags are made in Maine.

A second ordinance would ban polystyrene foam containers from being used in food preparation and sale, with the exception of raw meat and raw and live seafood. Similar to plastic bags, such containers add to litter, do not biodegrade, and require consumption of fossil fuels to make and transport, the committee said.

Stores could continue to sell polystyrene products, such as foam cups, but restaurants, for example, would not be allowed to serve prepared coffee in a foam cup.

Copies of both ordinances are available at cityofbath.com, and the documents can also be emailed or picked up at City Hall.

Topsham’s 5-cent fee on single-use shopping bags and ban on the use of polystyrene foam containers took effect May 8. The committee reports that Brunswick has also enacted a 5-cent fee on plastic and paper bags; Falmouth has a 5-cent fee on both kinds of bags at stores of more than 10,000 square feet; Freeport bans plastic bags and has a 5-cent fee on paper, and Portland has a 5-cent fee on both types of bags.

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

Bath Public Works Director Lee Leiner describes a proposed ban on plastic bags and polystyrene containers in stores during the City Council’s Oct. 4 meeting. The panel unanimously supported both bans, and will vote a second and final time next month.

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A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.