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.