Freeport on path to regulate use of disposable bags

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FREEPORT — On the eve of Portland’s restrictions on disposable bags going into effect, town councilors on Tuesday voted unanimously for further review of their own proposed restrictions on single-use bags.

In a discussion that lasted roughly two hours and saw more than a dozen members of the public speak in favor of either banning the bags or implementing fees for their use, the five councilors present all expressed support for some kind of restriction. Councilors Scott Gleeson and James Hendricks were absent from the meeting.

While no action was taken to restrict single-use bags, Councilor Sarah Tracy said “it was important to pause and gauge public interest” in whether the council should move forward. And the public comment was all for some kind of restriction.

Woody Woodbury, owner of Freeport Hardware at 262 U.S. Route 1, said he eliminated using plastic bags last fall and it hasn’t hurt his business at all.

“I’ve had more positive response than negative,” Woodbury said.

Amy Hunter, an environmental science teacher at Freeport High School, said she talks often to her students about what’s happening to the environment.

“These are incremental steps to make the world a better place,” Hunter said.

Tracy noted that councilors have not determined what kinds of bags would be affected by an ordinance if one is enacted.

“All options are still on the table,” she said.

The town has banned foam cups and food containers since 1990, and began looking into a possible ban or fee system for single-use bags last July, when two high school seniors drafted a proposed ordinance that would ban the bags. Councilors referred that to the Ordinance Committee, which Tracy chairs.

The panel “evaluated economic and environment impacts  to see if an ordinance is in the best interest of Freeport,” Tracy said.

On Tuesday night, the council asked the Freeport Economic Development Corp. do an analysis of the economic impact of a ban or fee system. Councilors also asked the Recycling and Solid Waste Committee do an environmental impact analysis, as well as a life-cycle analysis of paper and plastic bags.

“The Ordinance Committee and Town Council are considering all options, not just a ban,” Tracy said, saying there could conceivably be anything from no action, to a ban on plastic bags and a fee on paper bags, or any combination.

Councilor Bill Rixon said the Portland model, which places a 5-cent fee on disposable paper and plastic bags at grocery and convenience stores, is an “appropriate step to take,” because it treats both products equally

“Portland is starting with something achievable,” Rixon said, noting the city’s residents had nearly a year after the measure was enacted by the City Council and when it went into affect. He said a similar process in Freeport would be the way to get people prepared for any restrictions.

Rixon also said Portland was wise for only looking at stores that primarily sell food, which in Freeport would essentially only include Shaw’s Supermarket at 200 Lower Main St., Bow Street Market at 79 Bow St., and CVS Pharmacy at 512 Middle St.

He added he likes a model Falmouth is examining the most, because it would place a fee on both types of bags for a year, before transitioning to a ban on plastic bags.

“With the fee for the year people have plenty of opportunities to get reusable bags,” Rixon said.

While there was no deadline discussed for any of the analyses requested, councilors expressed hope they may be able to make a decision about an ordinance within the next few months.

Colin Ellis can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or 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