Brunswick enacts ban on single-use plastic shopping bags

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BRUNSWICK — The Town Council voted 8-1 Monday to ban single-use plastic bags from most town retailers starting Sept. 1.

The council also scheduled an April 10 workshop on a draft of a new zoning ordinance, which had several Zoning Ordinance Rewrite Committee revisions after a series of public forums.

The plastic bag ban passed with little discussion. Councilor Dan Harris pointed the council had “talked it to death” in prior meetings.

“We’ve been up and down on this issue,” he said, referring to past lengthy discussion about whether to encourage reduced consumption of single-use plastic bags with a fee, or to ban them outright.

Most councilors ultimately supported the ban because it would reduce the impact on the environment. Included were those like Councilor Sarah Brayman, who also campaigned for a penalty on single-use paper bags.

Councilor Jane Millett and Chairwoman Alison Harris also expressed a preference for the fee model Monday, arguing, respectively, that it would provide time for public education and be effective in reducing the number of single-use bags.

Councilor John Perrault reversed his original position when he cast the only opposition vote Monday.

At a September workshop, he encouraged the council to go “whole-hog” if it was going to act, but said Monday that he wouldn’t support “banning something completely.” 

He indicated at a prior meeting that his position changed with the discovery that many reusable bags were made in China.

The council did not take public comment Monday, citing the previous opportunities to weigh in since September.

The ban received mixed support at a March 6 public hearing, with a cohort of local retailers protesting the prohibition.

Owners of Libby’s Market, Lighthouse Variety Deli, and Paul’s Marina restaurant said they feared the ban would place an undue burden on small retailers by forcing them to supply costlier paper bags that require more room to store, and infringing on their right to choose how to operate their businesses.

On the opposing side, the citizen’s group Bring Your Own Bag, which has campaigned for penalties on single-use bags in Brunswick and neighboring communities, supported the ban. However, members told the council they would continue pushing for a fee for paper bags.

Retailers have until Aug. 31 to request a temporary exemption because of undue hardship, according to a memo from Town Manager John Eldridge.

The ban roll-out will follow a similar schedule as an ordinance that banned polystyrene foam containers, which the council approved unanimously a year ago.

The polystyrene ban took effect last October. 

In Topsham last November, selectmen put the decision to voters, who approved a ban on polystyrene and a 5-cent fee on all single-use shopping bags.

Callie Ferguson can be reached at 781-3661, ext. 100, or cferguson@theforecaster.net. Follow Callie on Twitter:@calliecferguson.

A plastic shopping bag caught in a tree in Brunswick’s 250th Anniversary Park. The Town Council voted March 21 to ban local retailers from using single-use plastic bags.

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Reporting on municipal, school, and community news in Brunswick and Harpswell. Bowdoin graduate, Wild Oats sandwich-eater. Callie can be reached at 207-781-3661 ext. 100, or cferguson@theforecaster.net.