Freeport panel has questions about proposed plastic bag ban

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FREEPORT — A town committee wants more information before its starts considering an ordinance that would ban plastic shopping bags.

Members agreed, however, that there are three possible scenarios to consider: a plastic bag ban, a bag tax like the one recently approved in Portland, or no action.

The ordinance committee had its first meeting Tuesday to discuss the ordinance written by recent Freeport High School graduates Elly Bengtsson and Meredith Broderick. The Town Council received the proposal last month, and referred it to the committee.

No further action on the proposed ordinance was taken Tuesday, but the committee made plans to research the impact of a plastic bag ban.

“I want to make sure we are methodical in this so there are no unintended consequences,” committee member and Councilor Scott Gleeson said.

With Freeport’s glut of retail stores, Gleeson expressed concerns that banning plastic bags could harm businesses. He said that while it is “certainly a feel-good ordinance,” he doesn’t want it to be labeled as unfriendly to businesses.

The ordinance has been altered since its first draft. It aims to ban not only flimsy plastic bags from grocery and convenient stores, but also thicker plastic bags used by retail and clothing stores.

Exemptions from the ban include pet waste bags, newspaper bags, bags to protect other items from dampness, door-hanger bags, bags used to contain prepared foods or baked goods, bags used by pharmacists to contain prescription drugs, bags sold in packages containing multiple bags, and produce bags.

Gleeson said customers can’t be expected to bring reusable tote bags when shopping in Freeport. If the ban passed, this would mean stores would have to use paper, which Gleeson said would cost more money.

Bengtsson and Broderick said they have been doing research about the best kind of paper bags to use, as some are better for the environment than others. They said some paper bags have a coating on them that contains chemicals, making them as environmentally problematic as plastic bags.

They also said they have found a paper bag that uses 40 percent recycled materials, but which cost more than traditional bags. Broderick said she believes businesses would be willing to pay the extra money for the environmentally friendly bags.

“Companies are willing to pay more for their image,” she said.

The committee decided to do more research on the difference between paper and plastic before moving forward.

“Before we even consider this ordinance, I believe we need to look at the impacts of paper versus plastic,” committee member and Councilor Andy Wellen said.

The committee also discussed the possibility of holding a workshop and inviting an environmental expert to educate them on the issue.

The committee said if the proposed ordinance morphs into a tax, it could go to a referendum for voter approval. But if a ban is proposed, it could be up to the Town Council to approve.

The ordinance committee consists of Gleeson, Wellen, Councilor Sarah Tracy, Town Manager Peter Joseph, Bengtsson, and Broderick. They tentatively scheduled another meeting for Aug. 12, but confirm at the Aug. 5 Town Council meeting to make sure their research will be ready.

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.