Cape Elizabeth weighs fee for single-use plastic bags

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CAPE ELIZABETH — The Town Council is considering joining about a half dozen surrounding communities that regulate the use of plastic shopping bags and nonrecyclable foam containers.

The council on Sept. 11 also discussed an amendment to a town ordinance in response to reports of chickens roaming onto neighboring properties. 

In December 2016, the council asked the Ordinance Committee to review recommendations for potential regulations for single-use carry-out bags and polystyrene foam food containers. 

The council unanimously Monday sent both proposals back to the Ordinance Committee for final review before scheduling a public hearing. Committee Chairwoman Patty Grennon said the panel will schedule a meeting in the next couple of weeks.

The Recycling Committee recommended the town implement a 5-cent charge for single-use plastic and paper carryout bags at all food stores, exluding restaurants.

While councilors all seemed to support a charge, they are still grappling with the type of businesses it should apply to. Town Manager Matthew Sturgis estimated the regulation would effect fewer than 20 businesses.

Grennon said a charge for bags will help reduce the volume of waste in the community.

The committee found that, for example, when Hannaford supermarkets had to implement a charge, there was an 80 percent reduction in single-use bags at the applicable stores. 

Grennon added that ecomaine, which provides waste disposal and recycling in the region, no longer accepts plastic bags as recyclables.

Kara Law, of the Recycling Committee, said part of ecomaine’s reasoning was that plastic bags clog up the sorting equipment. Still, Law said Public Works Director Robert Malley continues to see plastic bags thrown into silver bullets and collection bins around town. 

“(Plastic bags) continue to be a problem from a public works standpoint and from a waste processing standpoint, as well as (being) an environmental concern,” Law said. 

Recycling Committee member Matt Faulkner said he visited nearly every store in Cape Elizabeth and found that most were in favor of the charge.

Finally, Grennon said most residents are already familiar with paying a fee, since it has been implemented in Portland and South Portland. 

According to Law, much of the wording for the proposed ordinances was adopted from ordinances in both cities. 

Councilors Penelope Jordan, of Jordan’s Farm, and Caitlin Jordan, of Alewive’s Brook Farm, recused themselves from the discussion, because they sell food products at both of their businesses. 

But, speaking as a private resident, Penelope Jordan asked that the Recycling Committee and Town Council consider requiring a charge at all retail stores in town, not only those that sell food. 

“I think the committee would be perfectly happy to have the Town Council broaden the scope of (the ordinance),” Law said. 

The committee also recommended the ordinance ban polystyrene foam, except for perishable food shipments and in an emergency.  

According to a Sept. 5 memorandum from Town Planner Maureen O’Meara to the council, polystyrene foam is composed of styrene and benzene – both carcinogenic – and pollutes the environment by breaking into small balls that are transported by the wind and difficult to pick up. It is already banned in Portland and South Portland.

Grennon said because it is a known pollutant and there are many suitable alternatives, many businesses in town have already discontinued use of polystyrene packaging. 

In addition to Portland and South Portland, a 5-cent fee on single-use shopping bags and a ban on the use of polystyrene foam containers took effect in Topsham in May. 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, and Freeport bans plastic bags and has a 5-cent fee on paper. Bath is also considering a ban on plastic bags and polystyrene containers.

Backyard chickens

On July 10, the council referred to the Ordinance Committee – in response to several resident complaints – an amendment that would prohibit owners from allowing domestic fowl on private property without the consent of the property owner.

If approved by the council, the revision would broaden the town’s existing ordinance to apply to “any animal” and add “private property without permission of the property owner” to the list of spaces in town where domestic fowl are prohibited. 

The ordinance does not include dogs, because they are regulated under another ordinance. 

Grennon said amendments to the ordinance would give it “some teeth,” so police could “lay the law down.” 

According to a memo to the council from Town Planner Maureen O’Meara dated Sept. 5, Police Chief Neil Williams said, “The department’s priority is to properly address animal control issues.” The memo also stated that Town Attorney John Wall reviewed the amendment and the committee’s recommendation reflects his revisions. 

Sturgis said Monday that rewording would give the town the authority to respond rapidly to situations currently governed by state provisions.

The council voted unanimously 6-0 Monday to send the ordinance to a public hearing on Wednesday, Oct. 11. Councilor Sara Lennon was absent.

Jocelyn Van Saun can be reached at 781-3661, ext. 183 or Follow her on Twitter @JocelynVanSaun.