Falmouth panel drops plastic bag ban proposal; fee remains

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FALMOUTH — The Ordinance Committee is nearly ready to send recommendations to the Town Council for single-use shopping bag restrictions.

But those recommendations are different than the last suggestions seen by the Town Council in September, and don’t include an outright ban.

Original suggestions from the Recycling and Energy Advisory Committee, which has been spearheading the effort to get an ordinance in place, called for a two-year phase-in.

The first year would have seen a 5-cent fee on paper and plastic bags at stores with a footprint of 10,000 square feet or more. That would include the town’s six largest retailers: Hannaford Bros., Shaw’s, Wal-Mart, Rite Aid, Staples and Goodwill.

The second year would have established an outright ban on all single-use shopping bags, with an optional fee for paper bags.

But on Tuesday, council Vice Chairman Russell Anderson, who is also chairman of the Ordinance Committee, said the committee has decided to take a different route.

He said the panel’s consensus is that the town should move away from the ban, in favor of a 5-cent fee on both paper and plastic single-use bags. The fee proceeds would remain with the retailers, and the fee period would not be phased out.

“The idea was, let’s give the fee a chance,” Anderson said after an Ordinance Committee meeting. “A ban makes the assumption that a fee would be inefficient, and we don’t know that.”

No formal action was taken at the Oct. 27 committee meeting.

Anderson said it is likely that after the committee’s meeting on Monday, Nov. 2, it will be ready to make its recommendations to the council. An introduction would be scheduled for the council’s Nov. 9 meeting, a public hearing would be held in December, and an order scheduled for sometime in January.

“We’re clearly heading in the direction of a 5-cent fee” for single-use paper and plastic bags, Anderson said.

The council had originally hoped to have an ordinance in place by Jan. 1, 2016, but Anderson said they are now looking at a tentative date of April 1, subject to feedback from the six retailers.

“We want to give the businesses enough time to gear up,” Anderson said.

Similar exemptions to the ones originally proposed by the Recycling and Energy Advisory Committee were included in a draft of the ordinance, which has been largely based on similar efforts in Portland and South Portland.

Under the proposed ordinance, bags from dine-in and take-out restaurants, dry cleaners, and horticultural nurseries and commercial greenhouses would be exempt.

According to the draft ordinance, produce and product bags used exclusively to carry produce, meats and other food items and merchandise to the point of sale, or to prevent those foods from directly touching other foods, are not considered single-use bags. Nor are bags provided by pharmacists containing prescription drugs.

REAC had originally proposed that residents in the food assistance community would be exempt from the fee, but the members of the Ordinance Committee on Tuesday leaned more towards not including that exemption.

“Everyone’s going to have to figure out how to change their behavior,” Anderson said during the meeting, adding that just being in the food assistance community doesn’t excuse a responsibility to help protect the environment from plastic bag waste.

Councilors and town staff at the meeting suggested that the six retailers affected by the ordinance could put the fees they collect from charging for single-use bags towards providing reusable bags for the food assistance community or other such causes.

Colin Ellis can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @colinoellis.

Seal of Falmouth

Reporter covering the Portland Public School District as well as the town of Falmouth for The Forecaster. Can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net.