Freeport businesses cool to proposed plastic bag ban

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FREEPORT — Business owners have mixed reactions to a proposed ban on plastic shopping bags.

The Town Council reviewed the proposed ordinance July 1, and sent it to the ordinance committee for further action. The ban would apply to disposable bags that are typically distributed at grocery or convenience stores.

For Jim Frey, manager at Bow Street Market, getting rid of plastic bags isn’t a new idea.

“We’ve thought about going all-paper,” Frey said. “It’s a cost we’d have to incur.”

Frey estimated that plastic bags cost the store 0.6 cents each, while paper would cost three cents per bag. He said the store has been urging customers to use reusable bags to cut down on costs.

Despite the financial aspect, Frey said the store is leaning towards paper bags for environmental reasons.

“Overall, if you get rid of plastic, you’re doing the right thing,” he said.

Glen Brand, the director of Sierra Club Maine, agreed. Sierra Club Maine is an organization that works to protect the environment.

“Plastic bag bans are a proven, common-sense way to reduce the amount of disposable bags that have a lot of effect on coastal communities in particular,” Brand said.

He said plastic bags clog sewer systems before breaking up and making their way into Casco Bay and the ocean. The plastic is then ingested by sea life.

Brand said the Sierra Club is very supportive of Freeport’s proposed ban.

“Freeport is to be commended for being leaders in the coastal community for what would be the first plastic bag ban in Maine,” Brand said.

Freeport’s proposal follows a decision made by the Portland City Council last month requiring businesses to charge five cents per paper or plastic bag, starting next April. In 1990, Freeport banned the sale of polystyrene cups and food containers.

But some businesses in Freeport disagree with Brand and the proposed ban, saying it would hurt business.

Kat Moraros, the manager of Island Treasure Toys, said her store uses recycled plastic bags, not the flimsy ones, so she’s not sure if the ban would affect the toy store.

The proposed ordinance says the ban doesn’t apply to bags used to contain items in bulk, such as candy and nuts, or to carry other food items “to the point of sale.” It also doesn’t apply to bags that are used to protect other items from dampness, bags used by pharmacists to contain prescription drugs, newspaper bags, garbage bags, and pet waste bags.

But despite Freeport’s volume of retail stores, the ordinance doesn’t make mention of heavier plastic bags.

Regardless, Moraros said the store relies on its bag as part of its branding and marketing.

“Our bright yellow bag is our signature,” Moraros said. “It’s really important to us as a small business.”

Jeff Curtis, owner of Sherman’s Books and Stationery, said the ban could negatively affect his store as well. Although the store primarily uses paper bags, Curtis said that in rainy weather it uses flimsy plastic bags that have “Thank You” printed on them. They protect the books and paper products from getting wet.

“With that kind of ban, some of our customers would be upset on rainy days,” he said.

Rob Zechel of When Pigs Fly bakery said he thinks the ban could harm business. When bread is purchased it is put in a plastic bag and sealed with a twist tie. Zechel said doing the same with paper bags allows the bread to harden by the next day.

“For When Pigs Fly, (the ban) would be problematic because (customers) want fresh bread,” Zechel said.

At other businesses, including Mangy Moose and The Salty Lobster, owners said switching to paper bags would force their costs up. The owners said it would be something they’d have to work with if the ban went into affect.

Phil Rozenski, policy chairman of the American Progressive Bag Alliance in New York, said there are many things wrong with a plastic bag ban. APBA is an organization that manufactures and works to protect the use of plastic bags.

“A policy like this is taking away consumer choice with no facts to back it,” Rozenski said.

Rozenski said alternative products have their own negative effects, and that reusable bags can be worse than plastic. He claimed they are often thrown away after only a few uses and that they aren’t recyclable. He suggested Freeport look into other ways to reduce plastic use and help the environment.

“There’s a lot more that could be done to educate people,” Rozenski said. “(Freeport) should look at more practical choices, instead of a ban.”

There are also some businesses in town that wouldn’t be directly affected by the ban, because they already use paper. Representatives of Mexicali Blues and Cool as a Moose said they don’t use plastic bags at all.

The proposed ban will be discussed at the next Ordinance Committee meeting, which has yet to be scheduled. It could take several meetings to work through and possibly revise the proposal, which would then go back to the Town Council.

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

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.