Freeport takes 1st step toward banning plastic shopping bags

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FREEPORT — Foam cups and food containers are already outlawed in town, and disposable plastic shopping bags may be next.

The Town Council on Tuesday reviewed an ordinance proposing a ban on the disposable plastic bags, and sent the document to the ordinance committee for further action.

The proposal, written by Freeport residents Elly Bengtsson and Meredith Broderick, both of whom graduated from Freeport High School in June, would require businesses to replace plastic bags with more environmentally friendly options.

“What we’re trying to do is set a ban on plastic bags all through Freeport,” Bengtsson said after the meeting at Town Hall.

The banned plastic bags would include disposable bags provided at grocery and convenient store check-outs, or “flimsy bags” that are the “final carry-out bag,” according to Councilor Rich DeGrandpre. The proposed ordinance specifies that this 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.

The ordinance is primarily aimed at bags that contain toxins and are considered harmful to people and the environment.

“Our main goal is to make the community aware of the problems of plastic,” Broderick said.

While DeGrandpre said he understands the problem, he said there are more factors to consider, because plastic bags are convenient for shoppers and store owners. He said the ordinance aims to do good, but that it needs revisions.

“A lot of young people, they’re engaged, they’re excited,” DeGrandpre said. “They’re not always encouraged to take a step back and look at the whole situation.”

The Freeport proposal comes on the heels of a Portland City Council decision last month requiring businesses to charge customers five cents for each paper or plastic shopping bag. The Portland ordinance takes effect April 15, 2015, along with a ban on the use of polystyrene foam cups and food containers.

Freeport has banned the use of the foam packaging since 1990. Fines for selling foam range from $250 to $500.

The proposed bag ordinance will be taken up by the ordinance committee at its next meeting, which has yet to be scheduled. DeGrandpre said it will probably occur within the next month and that the number of meetings it will take to review and discuss the plan is unknown. 

After the ordinance committee works through the ordinance, adjusting details and tightening up the language, it will then go back to the Town Council, a process that DeGrandpre said could take a few months.

If the council accepts the ordinance before November, it will go to a town-wide referendum.

DeGrandpre said Freeport might understand the reasoning behind a ban, but in order for a solution to be settled, the ordinance needs to be revised.

“We all recognize there’s a problem,” DeGrandpre said. “(But) is there a better way to solve it?”

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.