Cape Elizabeth weighs bag fee, foam packaging ban

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CAPE ELIZABETH — The Town Council is considering a 5-cent fee on single-use plastic shopping bags and a ban on polystyrene food and drink containers.

Councilors on Monday unanimously approved sending the proposal to the Ordinance Committee. Councilors Caitlin Jordan and Penny Jordan recused themselves because they both operate retail businesses at their family farms.

The fee and ban were recommended to the Town Council by the Recycling Committee. The council had a goal this year to explore a ban on plastic bags, but the Recycling Committee decided a fee would work best for bags, along with a ban on foam containers. In a memo to the council, the committee said the decision was made after reviewing what surrounding towns and cities have enacted.

Portland, South Portland, Falmouth, Freeport, Topsham, York and Kennebunk regulate single-use plastic bags, and Portland, South Portland, Freeport, Brunswick and Topsham have banned foam food containers.

“I’m really excited that we’re having this conversation,” Councilor Sara Lennon said. “We’re now the only community left that hasn’t done this, and we’re surrounded by communities, all of which have done it and it seems to be going smoothly.”

Lennon said she is in favor of the proposal because it will reduce waste.

“It just seems to me environmentally so clear that it’s a direction we should try very hard to go in,” she said.

The Recycling Committee presented the Town Council with two ordinance outlines, one for the fee and one for the ban. The language presented for the single-use plastic bag fee states that the fee would be required at “stores selling foodstuffs as a principal part of the business.”

The ban on foam food and drink containers would affect any “store offering prepared food for retail sale.” It would also apply to food services in schools and town-sponsored events. Also, town employees and contractors would not be able to use foam containers at town-owned properties.

The Ordinance Committee may adjust or rewrite any of the Recycling Committee’s language as it sees fit.

Most of the councilors voiced support for the fee and ban, but others were worried about the language. 

“I have some serious concerns about this as it’s presented,” Councilor Jessica Sullivan said. “It seems very heavy-handed to me. Cape Elizabeth is a small town. We have just a handful of retail establishments … I’m not sure this is necessary to this extent.”

A member of the Recycling Committee informed the councilors that every retailer in Cape Elizabeth was polled about the fee and ban and most of them responded positively. Sullivan added that she was more concerned about the impact the fee and ban would have on residents.

C Salt Gourmet Market on Wednesday said the fee and ban wouldn’t affect the store because it doesn’t use plastic bags or foam containers. Employees at Cumberland Farms, which uses both, declined to comment, and the company’s corporate manager couldn’t be reached for comment.

Norm Barrett, manager of Pond Cove IGA, said at least half of his customers already use reusable shopping bags and that while the store uses foam containers, they also have containers made of other materials.

“A lot of people are using reusable bags now so I don’t think it’d be a big deal,” Barrett said. “I’ve seen a lot more over the past year because a lot of people also shop in South Portland.”

Kate Gardner can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or Follow her on Twitter: @katevgardner.

I'm a reporter for The Forecaster covering Freeport, Yarmouth, Chebeague Island, and Cape Elizabeth. I'm from a small town in NH no one's ever heard of. When not reporting, I can be found eating pasta and reading books, often at the same time.