Falmouth poll finds support for plastic-bag ban

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FALMOUTH — With Portland poised to charge for disposable shopping bags and Freeport considering a ban, Falmouth could be the next town to crack down on single-use plastic shopping bags.

Early in the summer, the Town Council started receiving letters from residents asking if the town would take action similar to Portland, which placed a 5-cent fee on paper and plastic bags, effective April 15, 2015.

Councilors asked the Recycling and Energy Advisory Committee to come up with options and recommendations on regulation of single-use shopping bags.

Kimberly Darling, energy and sustainability coordinator for the town, said REAC decided to poll residents on Election Day, with three questions.

The first question simply asked if residents use reusable shopping bags.

A second question asked which measure residents would support if the town adopted regulations on single-use bags; residents could answer they would support either a ban on plastic bags, a fee of 5 cents per bag, a fee of 25 cents per bag, or that they disagree with regulating the use of plastic bags.

The third question asked residents if they would commit to using reusable bags while shopping in Falmouth.

“It definitely leans more towards people do use reusable bags,” Darling said. “As far as fee versus a ban versus no regulation, surprisingly a lot of people are pro ban. More people prefer a 5-cent versus 25-cent fee.”

Results from the Election Day survey showed more than half of respondents use reusable bags, and more than a third use them sometimes.

The results found that 37 percent of those polled favored an outright ban on plastic bags, with 20 percent saying they wanted no regulation. More than 30 percent favored a fee of 5 cents, and 13 percent favored a 25-cent fee.

The final question found that 80 percent of respondents were ready to commit, while 14 percent said maybe, and 6 percent said no.

The same questions were also posted on the town’s website. Darling said the results of the Election Day poll were from a small portion of residents, about 270 she said.

“It gave us a feel of are we going in right direction,” she said.

REAC also hosted an informational meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 11, at Falmouth Memorial Library, “to find out what the business community thinks,” Darling said.

More than 400 business owner were invited, but only two businesses sent representatives.

Jim Wellehan, owner of Lamey Wellehan shoe stores, was one of them. He said his company used to offer both paper and plastic bags for customers, but now only has reusable bags for purchase if customers want bags. He said he used to love seeing the company’s bags out around town, until he learned about the environmental problem the bags caused.

“We can’t live the way we use to,” Wellehan said. “Twenty-five percent of the world has bans on plastic bags.”

Darling said the Town Council wants a recommendation by the beginning of the new year. She said REAC could have it sooner, depending on survey results and the outcome of the informational meetings.

Whatever action is taken would only affect plastic bags with handles, Darling said at the meeting. She said paper bags would “always be an option.”

She also said the meeting was only the first of many steps in the process, and that many of the details still need to be discussed in future meetings.

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

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.