City of Ships preps for plastic bag ban by distributing 'Bath Bags'

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BATH — With only days before the city’s Earth Day ban on the distribution of disposable plastic shopping bags and polystyrene containers takes effect, Steve Brackett was cycling through old materials and preparing for the new.

The co-owner of Brackett’s Market said he expected to receive a supply of “Bath Bags” Thursday or Friday. The free, reusable, royal blue tote bags – adorned with a modified version of the city’s logo – are also to be available at Shaw’s supermarket, the Bath Area Food Bank and Bath Farmers Market.

The city spent $4,500 on 3,500 bags for distribution to shoppers. They are composed of recyclable 80-gram coated water-resistant polypropylene, and are 13 by 15 by 10 inches.

The bags will be available until they run out, and city staff suggest they are limited to one per person or household. Bath residency is not required.

The City Council authorized the ban on plastic bags and polystyrene containers in separate votes last October and November. The decision followed two “Bring Your Own Bag” informational forums hosted in September 2017 by Bath’s Solid Waste Advisory Committee, which began studying the issue that January.

The delay in the ban enactment until Earth Day – Sunday, April 22 – provides time to spread the word, as well as allowing businesses such as Brackett’s to use up their stocks of disposable bags.

Brackett said Monday that he would continue using plastic bags up until Saturday, and did not expect surplus to be an issue given the busy shopping traffic. The foam ban has a more significant effect.

“The biggest things we’ve had to do is move into different coffee cups, different hot food containers,” he said. “… We’ve had a number of housekeeping issues like that, that we’ve worked on for the past five or six weeks.”

The store has had signs up the past two weeks to inform its shoppers of the change, “so it’s caused a lot of conversation out front among customers,” Brackett noted. “I have a feeling, come next Sunday, a lot of folks are still not going to be prepared.”

“I think it’ll be a long learning curve, but it’ll be fine,” he added, praising the Main Street Bath organization for its part in getting the word out the past month.

“I just feel kind of bad for the girls out front,” Brackett said with a chuckle. “They’re going to get the brunt of the comments. We’re kind of preparing ourselves.”

The new city policy is intended to clean up its environment by getting rid of bags that clog storm drains, adversely impact wildlife and waterways, and do not biodegrade.

The ban comprises non-reusable bags distributed at all Bath businesses. Paper bags will remain available, but users will 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 will retain bag revenues.

The escalated fees are intended to wean consumers off store-distributed bags in favor of bringing their own. Businesses can also opt not to offer paper bags.

The ordinance exempts bags without handles used to carry meat, produce, seafood and prescriptions, along with bags distributed at short-term festivals, fairs and flea markets.

Businesses will be able to give away or sell their own bags that meet reusable-bag standards.

The ban on polystyrene foam is aimed at containers usually 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 can keep selling polystyrene products like foam cups, but restaurants, for example, will 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 last May. Brunswick a year ago banned single-use plastic bags from most town retailers starting September 2017; 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 last fall approved a 5-cent fee on plastic bags and a ban on foam containers.

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

Bath Bags will be available at Brackett’s Market and other locations before the city’s ban on single-use plastic bags begins Sunday, April 22.

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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.