SOUTH PORTLAND — As the 5-cent fee on single-use shopping bags and a ban on polystyrene food containers nears the six-month mark, one city councilor is thinking about the city’s next step in eliminating excess waste: a ban on single-use plastic water bottles.
“It seems to me if we’re moving in the direction of being sustainable, (banning plastic water bottles) seems like a logical next step,” Councilor Brad Fox said Monday.
Fox said he intends to request a workshop to discuss the pros and cons of the proposal. And even if the city opts not to go in that direction, he said, “I think it’s at least something we need to talk about.”
Fox said he’s raising the issue because it aligns with the city’s 2014 Climate Action Plan, by not only mitigating excess waste, but also chipping away at the energy consumption used to make the bottles.
In March, South Portland became the second city in the state to enact a nickel fee on single-use bags and a ban on polystyrene foam containers. The motivation was that plastic bags and foam cups and food containers are virtually non-biodegradable and damaging to the environment.
While more cities and towns have taken similar steps, a relatively small number of municipalities across the country have banned the sale of bottled water.
San Francisco, for example, through a four-year phase-in process that began in 2014, has banned the sale or distribution of single-use water bottles on city-owned property and at city-sponsored functions.
Smaller cities, like Concord, Massachusetts, which has about 17,000 residents, have blazed the trail with more comprehensive efforts to outlaw single-use plastic water bottles, which are mostly made of polyethylene teraphthalate.
In 2013, Concord became the first city in the country to ban all sales of single-use plastic water bottles.
Passing the measure took three attempts and remains divisive, Concord Town Manager Chris Whelan said Tuesday.
Whelan said the ban was driven by a concern about both the level of solid waste generated and the amount of energy it takes for water to be delivered to Concord from, for example, the Poland Springs bottling plant in Maine.
Most places have “high-quality (tap) water available at a very low cost,” Whelan said, and outlawing plastic water bottles is one step toward sustainability.
However, some “drawbacks hit home with voters,” he said.
Because selling bottled water is very profitable, some retailers didn’t want to relinquish the revenue. Others criticized what they said is the arbitrary banning of just single-use plastic water bottles, and not bottled soda, juice or other drinks.
Mayor Tom Blake on Thursday said he suggested to Fox that a workshop should not be held until after the November general election, and because city staff is “overwhelmed” with work.
To put “something as substantial” as banning plastic water bottles “on the table now will make matters worse,” Blake said.
Fox, however, said he plans to request a workshop sooner rather than later.