South Portland council takes 1st step toward bag fee, foam packaging ban

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SOUTH PORTLAND — City councilors gave preliminary approval Wednesday to a 5-cent fee on single-use shopping bags and a ban on the use of polystyrene food containers.

The fee would apply to paper and plastic bags at any retail store that primarily sells food products. Only retailers whose sales of food or drink items are less than 2 percent of gross sales would be excluded.

The ban on containers made of plastic foam would only exclude establishments with incidental gross food sales of less than 2 percent.

The effort to curb the use of these materials comes on the coattails of Portland’s decision to implement virtually the same rules, which went into effect in April.

In early August, councilors held a workshop on the issue and agreed that following in Portland’s footsteps would be a good first step for the city.

It may be that South Portland eventually veers from Portland’s path and limits the use of these materials even further, to the point of “total elimination,” City Manager Jim Gailey said last week.

A possible route could be to have the single-use tax for one year and then an outright ban on plastic bags in year two, he said.

“As much as Portland did both paper and plastic, the real concern is the plastic (and) the end result of plastic in the environment,” Gailey said.

The City Council’s first reading of both proposed ordinances received unanimous support at the Sept. 9 meeting. They will be up for final approval on Sept. 21. If approved, both would go into effect in six months, on March 1, 2016.

Councilor Tom Blake unsuccessfully proposed an amendment to the single-use bag ordinance, which would have eliminated paper bags from the single-use category.

Paper bags are recyclable and can be reliably reused, Blake said. Moreover, paper bags can be viewed as a local product, made from Maine trees, he said.

“This is a reusable bag that is a Maine product that is made by a Maine employer. We have an opportunity to use a renewable resource,” he said.

But Councilor Patti Smith said the point is to reduce, in addition to reuse and recycle.

“If you really believe in the three R’s, some communities are actually adding a fourth R called responsibility: taking responsibility for your actions around environmental steps,” Smith said.

She said she supports a single-use bag fee for both paper and plastic because it’s a “step to take to address that first R: Reduce.”

Adding a nickel fee for single-use bags and banning polystyrene are small, but meaningful steps, but “small matters do make a difference,” Smith said. “It’s up to everyone to think about what they do.”

For the sake of consistency, Councilor Claude Morgan said, it’s necessary to implement an ordinance similar to Portland’s.

“In this narrow ordinance that we’re working on tonight, we are in fact jumping in concert with a number of communities,” he said.

The hope, Morgan added, is that other communities in the region will follow.

Fewer than half a dozen citizens offered comments. Two of them urged councilors not to take action.

Jim Hoy said he doesn’t believe plastic bags are that big a problem, and frequent council critic Albert DiMillo called the councilors “a bunch of environmental hypocrites.”

“You worry about environment. (But) why did we build a monstrous high school? Because you don’t think about the big picture, you think about little bags. You worry about the pennies and don’t look at the big dollars,” DiMillo said.

It isn’t about turning a profit, Smith said. Rather, it’s about providing an incentive for people to make small changes in their behavior that will hopefully lead to less refuse in the environment.

The 5-cent fee for bags would remain with retailers to use at their discretion, a detail that disappointed Blake.

He said he would rather see the fee used for “in-house programs, for education. I would like to see that happen, so that businesses look at it as an opportunity to improve themselves,” he said.

Alex Acquisto can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or Follow Alex on Twitter: @AcquistoA.

South Portland and Scarborough reporter for The Forecaster. Graduate of Western Kentucky University and the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies. Alex can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106.
  • Chew H Bird

    The end result will be the retailers make money on the fees, and people end up buying disposable bags at a higher price for a net gain of zero as the purchased plastic bags will still end up in the landfill. The additional fallout is that paper (trees) is a renewable resource (when properly managed) and Maine’s declining paper industry will suffer additional lost jobs as this wasteful and “feel good” type of legislation propagates,

    Why not target manufacturers of products to reduce excessive retail packaging which might actually have a positive on the overall waste produced from consumption?

    This “bag ban” hype train also encourages use of heavy duty reusable bags which are often not cleaned or washed on a regular basis and are known to distribute contamination on supermarket checkout conveyors prompting more frequent use of cleaning products by checkout clerks.

    This entire preoccupation with bag bans is wasteful, creates increased profits for retailers, does nothing to pad the coffers of municipal waste management programs, and results in a zero net gain regarding overall waste.

    • Scott Harriman

      How many of these paper bags are made in Maine? The ones I always got from several different retailers were from out of state.

    • Scott Harriman

      Many of the retailers in Portland donate the money from this fee to food-related charities. They aren’t profiting from it.

  • The Pope

    Ciao, it’s me The Pope. Mama Mia, South Portland has very much the best bands around. Just you think about it, what the jam session could happen at the Bug Light park. The Tar Sands Band, The Pesticide Band, The Pastic Bag Band, The Styrofoam Band, The Gas Powered Car Band. Shoot me a text when the concert time is set up so me and Benny can hop in the Popemobile and make the scene.

    Mazel tov.

    The Pope
    Soaking a callus on my big toe in some Holy Water
    Vatican City

  • spcitizen

    spcitizen loves Al “Keep Them On Their Toes” DiMillo. He will question every insipid move made by these eco-terrorist councilors. At least Melissa “The Emperor’s Puppet” Linscott came to her senses and realized that bowing to Emperor Blake everyday was no way to live. Emperor’s Blake new puppet on the council? spcitizen says either Ralph “Banana” Cabana or Jane “Me Tarzan, You Jane” Aberle. Heaven help the City of SP if either of these ultra liberals make it to Emperor’s Blake council.
    All hail Emperor Blake!
    spcitizen has spoken

  • beachmom2

    First of all, So Ptld sends trash to Regional Wate’s trash to energy plant. No more landfill since, ohhh, about 20 yrs ago. Second of all, plastic bags are not a problem. Go watch the video of the last council meetin. Listen to the guy who’s been doing trash walks for years now.

    • SierraTango

      “Listen to the guy who’s been doing trash walks for years now.”

      I was there. He did not sound like an emotionally well person.

      • beachmom2

        Wow. I bet you’re one of the tolerant left.

        • SierraTango

          I do consider myself a tolerant person. Thank you for noticing. 🙂

      • beachmom2

        Nice unfactual response by the way. Just name calling. Boringly stereotypical.

        • SierraTango

          What part of my response was “unfactual” and when did I engage in namecalling?

          I was there. People in the audience were gasping at several of his bizarre comments.

          • beachmom2

            All 3 of you tolerant people? I call b.s. on that.

          • SierraTango

            There were more than three people in the audience. I counted at least six. Too bad you weren’t there, you could’ve been lucky seven!