Petitions circulate in Topsham for bag fee, foam container ban

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TOPSHAM — Petitions are circulating in town to require November referendums on ordinances that would impose a 5-cent fee on single-use shopping bags and ban polystyrene foam containers.

The Bring Your Own Bag Midcoast group has raised both issues in Brunswick and Topsham. The group advocates a nickel fee on “single-use, carry-out plastic and paper bags at all retail stores,” such as grocery and convenience stores, and pharmacies where food comprises more than 2 percent of gross sales.

Foam containers provided for beverages or food at restaurants, stores or other shops would be banned under the second ordinance.

Both types of products frequently end up as litter, according to the group’s website, bringyourownbag.info. Bags are recycled at a low rate in Maine, while foam containers aren’t recycled at all, the group says, and there are alternatives at competitive costs.

The Board of Selectmen has held workshops with BYOB, and discussed the matter at an official meeting for the first time July 7. The panel voted unanimously to take no action on a foam ban, allowing BYOB to petition for the question to be placed on November’s ballot.

The board had also voted 4-1, with David Douglass opposed, to have staff modify a draft ordinance and bring it back to the board for a public hearing, “with a thought of putting it on the November ballot,” Town Manager Rich Roedner said earlier this month.

But the panel voted 3-0 at its next meeting, July 21, to table the ordinance and let BYOB pursue a petition. Douglass, one of the three selectmen in attendance, said the issue should be settled by the Legislature, rather than with varying rules in each municipality, Roedner said.

As a result, BYOB is now circulating petitions, Cleave Street residents Edward and Lynne Caswell said Tuesday. They must gather at least 505 signatures, or 10 percent of the number of votes cast in the most recent gubernatorial election. The petitions must be submitted to the town by Sept. 26 – 45 days prior to the Nov. 8 general election – according to Town Clerk Linda Dumont.

Portland, South Portland, Falmouth, Freeport, York and Kennebunk already regulate single-use bags. Portland, South Portland and Freeport have banned foam food containers, and a ban will take effect in October in Brunswick.

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

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A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.
  • Chew H Bird

    The bring your own bag bullies strike again. With all the issues in our community from education budgets, high health care costs, high taxes, lack of good paying and challenging jobs, and high welfare costs, the last thing we need is a group of bribery bullies forcing a per bag fee on every person while padding the pockets of larger corporations by failing to put the fee where it should go: To clean up the environment rather than pad the pocket of Hannaford, for example, which (by the way) already offers recycling for the bags…

    • Scott Harriman

      In the communities that have imposed a bag fee, I don’t know of a single store that actually pads their pocket with them.

      Hannaford in Portland donates theirs to hunger relief programs.

      • Chew H Bird

        Donating is a good thing, but with the basis for the bag fee being environmental protection, shouldn’t the funds go for that purpose? Does anyone think that Hannaford and other food retailers would support this bag ban effort if it was revenue neutral? This is simple bribery by a special interest group (albeit with very good intentions).

  • farmertom2

    a bag fee on plastic bags is fine, because they go into the landfill and stay there. There should be no fee on paper bags, however, which are biodegradable in the first place, but more importantly are useful in recycling, providing the container for the recycling. There is no justification for any burden placed on paper bags

  • Yellow Submarine

    There are several points made in these comments that I need to address.

    In my opinion using the term “special interest group” to characterize a group of concerned citizens who have no financial gain in these ordinances is wrong. BYOB Midcoast is a group of well informed and well intentioned residents in Topsham who believe that these measures will benefit the social, environmental and economic pillars of Topsham and help keep us sustainable. So before you go touting who is a special interest consider who is profiting by fighting this? It is the interest of Topsham residents not corporations that should come first.

    I am happy to learn that the bag fee in Portland is funding hunger relief programs. Social, economic and environmental issues are so intertwined that making a contribution to any one will help the other pillars of sustainability. If you really want Corporate America to help us fix our societal issues tell them to start paying their fair share of taxes. P.S. The collection of a 5 cent fee on bags cannot be levied instead as a tax to pay for environmental cleanup costs. https://legislature.maine.gov/legis/bills/bills_127th/chapters/PUBLIC150.asp

    However, I think we are missing the point of the bag fee which is to reduce the negative environmental, social and economic impacts of all bag consumption. The perspective that paper is better than plastic is short sided, as you are only considering their post-consumer life. While it is apparent to us where bags go (composted, recycled, stuck in trees and eaten by wildlife) it is the pre-consumer life stage that is missing from your analysis. Paper bags are 3 to 4 times more resource intensive than plastic bags. Paper bags are not made in Maine, they cost more per bag to ship, and the consumer will pay the prices for these bags in the cost of our groceries.

    Recycling bags in not the answer. Only 3 % of plastic bags are recycled in Maine. Recycling is the third lowest priority on the waste hierarchy. Reducing and reusing come before recycling. Further, by refusing single use bags we will reduce the burden on municipal sewer and recycling facilities to remove these bags which cost the tax payers money. We will also lower the cost of groceries as the price of these bags is built in. Lastly, by reducing plastics from the environment we will improve water quality and the aesthetics of our natural resources which our fishing and tourism industry thrive on.

    P.S. If you don’t know BYOB will be giving out 5,000 bags through Midcoast Hunger prevention. Please support this cause.

    • Chew H Bird

      So I ask…

      The answer to who is profiting is Hannaford. While I think Hannaford is a wonderful company, they are under no obligation to donate those fees to anyone or any group. Grocers make money a penny at a time and those fees constitute a fairly high margin for a large volume grocer. Basically, by implementing a fee the grocer’s acceptance is being purchased… This is ethically questionable in my opinion. Believing this places Topsham residents first is simply not true when Hannaford will be pocketing the fees.

      I completely agree the flimsy plastic bags are, formation to end, less environmentally damaging than imported paper.

      That only 3% of plastic bags in Maine are recycled is primarily because towns do not allow them to be recycled. Hannaford and Shaws recycle the plastic bags. If municipalities used a recycling firm that accepted the bags these imposed fees would likely not exist. If you want to fix the real problem, go after wasteful packaging across all industries and stop creating BS policies.

      Lowering the cost of groceries isn’t going to happen. Does anyone really think a change in bags will reduce the cost of groceries? Consumer prices are based on many factors and changing a bag policy is not one of them.

      Also, if bags were truly the focus, ALL retail stores would be subject to the fee, not just retailers who move a significant amount of food product. If this group desires to actually reduce a real problem, all retailers would be targeted, not just those who sell food.

      This is feel good policy with basically no benefit except to inconvenience residents and pad the pockets of large food retailers.