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.
  • Chew H Bird

    Very poor decision. What will they ban next? This is micro management of private business. What they have done is helped the sales of sturdier plastic bag manufacturers that contribute even more to pollution due to increased density.

    If Brunswick used the same recycling service as major retailers that recycle the single use bags this would not have even made it to the Town Council. The one saving grace is at least the Council didn’t fall into the “bribe the big box stores” game other towns have done.

    Now, how long will it be before the exodus from Brunswick begins due to increased costs to retailers? And how long before someone gets sick because a bring your own bag that has been on the floor of a vehicle leaves germs on the checkout counter?

    • farmertom2

      Exodus? What, the grocery stores will leave? Libby’s will run away because they have to use paper bags? I don’t think so. The cost for bags is what, either a nickel or a dime. I didn’t see it mentioned when I scanned the piece.
      As long as there’s no cost for paper bags, people will be able to get their groceries without dragging bags around.

      • Chew H Bird

        Paper bags, cradle to grave, are less green than plastic due to costs associated with them. Storage and transportation costs are higher, and vendors pay more per bag for paper than they do for plastic.

        So, consider that other towns have bribed grocers by implementing a fee per bag that is pocketed by the store, and Brunswick has outright banned the bags, leaving the higher cost paper option the only viable solution so will store start charging fees on their own to customers or will they (long term) relocate across the bridge to avoid additional costs of being in Brunswick, or will they just selectively raise prices to bury the additional cost to Brunswick residents?

        If Brunswick used the same recycling services as Hannaford and Shaws this wouldn’t even be a discussion.

  • thedual5s

    Disappointing

  • farmertom2

    This is fine– One imagines the bill was crafted to allow plastic use at no cost for wet stuff (meat, fish and the like) as most other such bills do. Plastic bags are a nightmare– they don’t degrade and they’re not reusable.
    The town should resist any attempt to ban (or impose costs to use) paper bags– which are biodegradable, compostable, recyclable. Indeed, paper bags help recycling, being able to contain the recyclable stuff and put out for collection. They do *not* create durable landfill waste.

    • Chew H Bird

      And we should not forget that when the costs of harvesting, duel, transportation, processing, storage, and chemicals used are all added up, the biodegradable paper bags are less “green” than plastic, cost retailers more money on a per bag basis, and many (if not most) bag manufacturers utilize foreign sourced materials in the manufacturing process. Feel good legislation with a negative result. If Brunswick utilized adequate recycling services none of the “hot air” in the bag debate would have been necessary.

      • farmertom2

        At the end of the process though, you either have plastic bags taking up room in landfill or paper bags that do not. We need bags. We are running out of landfill space. Making genuinely biodegradable plastic bags would solve all the issues. Until then, this is the best compromise

        • Chew H Bird

          If the town had selected the proper recycling service we would not be having this discussion, plastic bags would be recycled, and the landfill would not be affected.

  • farmertom2

    After being a customer at Libby’s for what, eight, nine years, this is it, I’m done. There’s no excuse for such whining. Undue burden? Give me a break. They’re in the same, exact, boat as every other store in town. If the difference in cost puts them out of business, then their margin was awfully, awfully, thin. Will it put them out of business? Not a chance. Unless all their other customers react to their uncivic complaints as I am. I doubt that’s the case. Good luck to them.