Bath to ban plastic bags, foam containers

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BATH — The City Council on Wednesday unanimously approved a ban on the distribution of disposable plastic shopping bags and polystyrene containers.

The panel also heard complaints from residents about traffic on Richardson Street and Western Avenue.

The council initially voted on bag and container bans Oct. 4. The decision follows two “Bring Your Own Bag” forums hosted in September by Bath’s Solid Waste Advisory Committee, which has studied the issue since January.

The new ordinances take effect April 22, 2018 – Earth Day – following a community education campaign. That would also allow businesses to use up their disposable bag stock, Public Works Director Lee Leiner has said.

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, according to Leiner.

The ban covers non-reusable bags distributed at all Bath businesses. Paper bags would remain available, but users 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 meant to wean consumers off store-distributed bags in favor of bringing their own, Leiner has said. 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 use, and able to be cleaned or disinfected – would be encouraged. If made 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 made and distributed as part of the public education process.

Paper bags are considered a substitute for bags made of plastic because 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 required to transport the heavier containers, according to the committee, which also noted that no paper bags are made in Maine.

The ban on polystyrene foam is aimed at containers typically used for 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, according to the committee.

Stores could continue to sell polystyrene products like 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. Cape Elizabeth this week approved a 5-cent fee on plastic bags and a ban on foam containers.

Traffic concerns

The City Council during its public comment section heard concerns from three residents about traffic flow along Richardson Street and Western Avenue, two streets between U.S. Route 1 and High Street (Route 209).

Dan Dunn of Richardson Street complained that a traffic survey for the area, which he understood would be conducted after the U.S. Route 1 viaduct’s reconstruction wrap-up in May, had not yet been completed. Interim City Manager Peter Owen said a study of the city’s South End, being done in concert with Bath Iron Works and the Maine Department of Transportation, was underway, but he did not know when it would be finished.

Dunn said he could not understand why oversized vehicles are allowed on a road posted at 20 mph, “and they’re doing 30 and 40, and you’re talking about dump trucks pulling trailers, and you’re in a residential neighborhood, and you have young families in the area that have young children.”

He suggested a four-way stop sign at Richardson and West streets, forcing vehicles to come to a halt.

“I realize people from (BIW) will get upset,” Dunn said, because a stop would back up traffic farther than now, “but there are other ways in and out of Bath besides Richardson Street and Western Avenue.”

Ward 2 Councilor Sean Paulhus, in whose section of town the residents live, said he supports the South End study, but understands their frustration at its pace.

“I keep telling everybody the study’s coming, but it is getting harder and harder to say,” he said.

Paulhus suggested a limitation on axle trucks on both streets be discussed at a later meeting. While such a restriction would not alleviate all problems on the streets, such as speeding, “I think we need to really look hard at any option at this point,” he said.

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

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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.

  • Chew H Bird

    I bet the landfill grows far more quickly due to paper bags…

    • Chris

      Your right about that. But in a year or two, the cardboard is compost and reduces size considerably. Ever composted anything? Amazing how much smaller it gets.
      Things like styrofoam, plastic and rubber are the same size. Almost forever. And it’s funny, a coffee cup is the same size whether it’s cardboard or styrofoam. Most of the ads for styrofoam and plastics talk about weight, not volume.
      So if we think about both now and the future, paper makes sense. Plus we have the managed resource right here in the state. I’m not sure if any of our mills produce bags, etc. but they might