Latest Falmouth proposal on plastic bag limits doesn't include ban

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FALMOUTH — Residents will have a chance to weigh in on a possible single-use shopping bag ordinance at the Dec. 14 Town Council meeting.

The ordinance committee, chaired by Council Vice Chairman Russell Anderson, has crafted language calling for a 5-cent fee on plastic and paper single-use shopping bags distributed at the town’s six largest retailers: Shaw’s, Hannaford Bros., Wal-Mart, Rite Aid, Staples and Goodwill.

The proposal was presented to the Town Council Monday night, Nov. 9.

Originally, the town’s Recycling and Energy Advisory Committee called for a two-year phase-in of bag regulations. The first year would have seen the 5-cent fee, but the second year would have launched an outright ban on plastic bags at the retailers, with the option of continuing the fee on paper bags.

Anderson said at an ordinance committee meeting last month that moving to a ban after a year suggests an assumption that the fee would be ineffective.

He said just because the ordinance committee is now recommending only the fee does not not rule out consideration of a ban if the fee is ineffective. Proceeds from the fee would remain with the retailers, he said.

Councilor Charles McBrady, who is also on the ordinance committee, echoed that. He said it’s “not off the table” to look at the ban again in the future if behavior hasn’t changed.

The regulation, which Anderson said will not take effect until April 1, 2016, so the retailers can “gear up,” mirrors similar ordinances in Portland and South Portland, with a few exceptions.

“We thought it was important to have some regional consistency,” Anderson said.

The Portland ordinance targets stores where food sales are a minimum of 2 percent of sales, while Falmouth’s ordinance will only target those six retailers of at least 10,000 square feet. Anderson said this would “not over-burden small businesses.”

The ordinance also defines the thickness of reusable bags. Under the Falmouth ordinance, reusable bags must be at least 4 millimeters thick, while Portland uses the standard 2.25-millimeter thickness. Anderson said this will ensure stores can’t sell slightly thicker plastic bags as reusable, when they probably won’t be used as such.

Under the proposed ordinance, dine-in and take-out restaurants, dry cleaners, and horticultural nurseries and commercial greenhouses would be exempt.

Also, produce and product bags used exclusively to carry produce, meats and other food items and merchandise to the point of sale, or to prevent those foods from directly touching other foods, are not considered single-use bags. Nor are bags provided by pharmacists containing prescription drugs.

Councilors seemed to support the ordinance draft.

Councilor Caleb Hemphill said this could be an opportunity for smaller businesses not affected by the ordinance to help discourage use of the bags, too.

“I think it’s a good ordinance,” Hemphill said. “I think it will work.”

Councilor Claudia King said she thought this ordinance “is a really good start.”

Brunswick is also exploring regulation of single-use bags, and Freeport is planning an advisory town referendum on a plastic bag fee.

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