Letter: Recycling works, fees on plastic bags don’t

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As a resident with great appreciation of Topsham, and executive director of the Retail Association of Maine, I am frustrated with BYOB-Midcoast’s proposed 5-cent tax on plastic bags in Brunswick and Topsham. It is difficult to understand why we would place restrictions on a 100 percent recyclable, reusable, American-made product that is the most environmentally friendly bagging option.

There are several issues with BYOB’s arguments. Contrary to their beliefs, plastic bag and film recycling is one of the fastest growing segments of the recycling industry. Even though more than 90 percent of Americans reuse their plastic bags, more than 1.17 billion pounds of bags and film were recycled through retail drop-off locations in 2014 alone. In fact, seven in-store recycling drop-off points are conveniently located within 10 miles of Topsham at stores such as Hannaford, Lowe’s and Target.

Second, the notion that plastics are the most numerous pieces of trash found in our oceans and beaches is simply not true. According to the 2015 Ocean Conservancy Report, of the more than 33,000 items collected from Maine’s waters, less than 1 percent were plastic bags.

Finally, there is no evidence to support the claim that bans and taxes have any real environmental effect. For example, a Washington Post investigation found that Washington, D.C., collected roughly $10 million since 2010 from its 10-cent bag tax – without making any environmental progress.

What Topsham and communities around the country should focus on is recycling. We can and ought to be working together to find better recycling-based solutions. That is the path best for the residents of Maine.

Curtis Picard

  • Chew H Bird

    I would really like to know why Brunswick does not allow the recycling of these plastic bags while Hannaford encourages recycling. I keep watching people put their reusable bags in the checkout conveyors and wonder just where those bags were last sitting (on the floor of their car, the floor of their home, in the back seat where the dog sits)? And Brunswick requires we pay for plastic garbage bags for our trash which is complete hypocritical at best and simply insulting to taxpayers.

    • Scott Harriman

      The specific materials that can be placed in Brunswick’s curbside recycling bins are determined by the hauler, Pine Tree Waste, and the processor, ecomaine. Since ecomaine does not have facilities to sort and process plastic bags and film, those materials are not allowed in the recycling bins.

      It is inaccurate to say that the town “does not allow” plastic bag recycling when that decision is not theirs to make. The town does direct residents to recycle plastic bags and film at local grocery stores.


      • Chew H Bird

        As a resident of Brunswick, “The Town” is the entity that determines whether or not I can recycle a specific product. I have no relationship with the contractor. “The Town”, in its infinite wisdom, contracted for services with a firm that does not recycle the bags. My “contract” or “requirement” is with the town.

        Perhaps “The Town” should contract with a provider who provides full service recycling which would resolve the issue, curtail the debate, and allow residents and businesses to do what they consider to be the right thing without necessitating further “feel good” legislation. Sometimes doing the right thing requires that our town leaders actually contract for services appropriate to their goals.

        • Scott Harriman

          I suspect that there are very few options for single-stream recycling in Maine. ecomaine is the only processor I have heard of.

          Given that most residents visit a grocery store frequently, the free plastic recycling service offered there is the most convenient and cost-effective solution.

  • farmertom2

    While the 5 cent fee on plastic bags might– and I say again might– make sense, it makes no sense whatsoever to put a fee on **paper** bags, which are not only recyclable, but which are USED by many people TO recycle their recyclables. The town should avoid any plan that burdens the use of paper sacks– which are the only ones I use, and which most of my friends use– save when I have something that needs a plastic bag– ice cream, other cold things that sweat and which would cause a paper bag to tear, etc. Unless there is a demonstrable problem with plastic bags, I think the best course in Brunswick is to leave things as they are, but in no event to burden the use of paper bags

    • Chew H Bird

      Actually, when the total impact of paper bags is considered, from harvesting, processing, transportation, and the associated fuels, power, and chemicals used in the process, paper is less green than plastic… Yes paper bio-degrades in an efficient manner but the cost to the environment is actually worse than plastic which can be recycled.

      • farmertom2

        I don’t think that’s right, but if it were, I wouldn’t care because paper bags have greater utility than plastic bags– and are more easily recycled.