Freeport bag ban may not make November ballot

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FREEPORT — The Ordinance Committee on Tuesday discussed sending proposed restrictions on single-use shopping bags to a voter referendum.

The committee didn’t make any decisions at the July 28 meeting, and didn’t send any recommendations to the Town Council. Members said they want more information and don’t want to rush the process, despite a looming September deadline for placing referendum questions for the Nov. 3 ballot.

The committee, which consists of Councilors Sarah Tracy, Andy Wellen, and Scott Gleeson, met with Kate Bacon and Sandy Thompson of the Recycling and Solid Waste Committee to review a report created by Bacon and Thompson’s group. 

The Recycling and Solid Waste Committee has recommended that the town ban all single-use plastic bags. Town councilors first referred the issue to the Ordinance Committee last July after two high school students proposed an ordinance to create the ban.

In April, the council asked for further review, comparing a ban to imposition of a fee for paper and plastic bags, similar to the fees in place in Portland.

Thompson on Tuesday said all plastic bags should be banned because they’re not recyclable. She said they jam recycling equipment and end up being burned, which releases greenhouse gas emissions into the air. 

The ordinance committee members also spoke to Mindi Melbane of the American Progressive Bag Alliance, who said she doesn’t think plastic bags should be banned. 

The committee members said they want more information regarding paper versus plastic, and a ban versus a fee, before sending any recommendations to the council.

The members agreed that the decision should ultimately be left up to voters, and not councilors.

“If I support anything, it’d be sending it to referendum,” Wellen said.

Tracy agreed.

“I think it’s important to make sure it’s supported by the town,” she said.

Gleeson said the situation comes with risks and unknowns.

“We’re not going to know until we do it,” he said. “That’s a risk.”

The committee members also talked about the unknown economic risks of a ban or fee.

“There’s economic risk if we do it and Yarmouth doesn’t do it,” Wellen said. “We could lose 10 percent of shoppers at Shaw’s (Supermarket), or we could gain 10 percent.”

The committee members also said they don’t want to rush a decision just to make the November ballot. They said if they had to, they’d wait until November 2016. But they ruled out the June 2016 election because of historically low voter turnout.

Ultimately, they decided they want more information before moving forward.

“I don’t want to kill this right now, but I don’t think I have enough data yet,” Gleeson said. 

Wellen agreed, and said there needs to be better, stronger information for the committee to review.

“If we’re going to do anything, we need to have good data to know if what we’re doing is helpful,” he said. “And I don’t think we have good data.”

Tracy said while she wants more data, the town can’t afford to do a major study or hire anyone to provide them with information. 

“This isn’t an issue I think we’ll be able to scientifically decide,” she said.

The committee asked that town staff reach out to other towns and cities that have implemented bans or fees, including Portland, to see how it was done and how it’s working. 

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

Sidebar Elements

Freeport Recycling and Solid Waste Committee members Kate Bacon, left, and Sandy Thompson, right, discuss a proposed ban on single-use shopping bags Tuesday, July 28, with Ordinance Committee members Councilors Andy Wellen, second from left, Sarah Tracy, and Scott Gleeson.

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.