Bath proposal would ban plastic bags, foam containers

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BATH — Lee Leiner painted a bleak picture Wednesday of littering at its worst.

He described plastic bags in trees, waterways and wetlands, clogging storm drains, wrapping around a seagull, scattered into the wind as a garbage truck opens at the city landfill.

“They’re blown away before they even hit the ground,” the Public Works Director told the small audience at a public forum on the city’s proposed “Bring Your Own Bag” program.

With an eye toward cleaning up the environment, Bath may soon join nearby Brunswick and Topsham in discouraging the use of single-use plastic bags in stores.

The City Hall forum was the first of two planned by Bath’s Solid Waste Advisory Committee. The second will be held at Patten Free Library at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 19.

After receiving feedback from both meetings, the committee will modify its proposal and present it to the City Council for the first of two votes Wednesday, Oct. 4. If the council approves the two proposed ordinances – banning plastic bags and polystyrene containers – the new rules would take effect on Earth Day, April 22, 2018.

A community education program would take place in the time between council approval and implementation.

The panel seeks to ban non-reusable bags from being distributed at cash registers at all Bath businesses. Paper bags would remain available, but with an assessed charge of 5 cents per bag the first year, 10 cents the second, and 15 cents from the third year forward. Businesses would keep bag revenues.

The escalated fees would be intended to wean consumers off store-distributed bags in favor of bringing their own, Leiner explained. Some members of the audience called for banning plastic and paper bags altogether; Leiner noted that businesses could choose not to offer paper bags.

Exempt uses in the bag ordinance would include bags without handles that are used to carry meat, produce, seafood and prescriptions, as well as festivals, fairs, and flea markets, which have a more infrequent or short-term occurrence.

Reusable bags – designed to be used repeatedly, 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 the creation and distribution of reusable “Bath Bags” would be part of the public education process.

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

The committee also hopes to ban polystyrene foam containers from being used in food preparation and sale, with the exception of raw meat and raw and live seafood. Like 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 selling polystyrene products, such as foam cups.

Among other area municipalities, according to the committee, Topsham‘s 5-cent fee on single-use shopping bags and ban on the use of polystyrene foam containers took effect May 8; Brunswick 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 Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

These images, depicting the ill effects of single-use plastic bags, were part of a presentation on Bath’s proposed “Bring Your Own Bag” program Wednesday, Sept. 13.

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.