SOUTH PORTLAND — The city’s ban on polystyrene food containers and a new five-cent fee for single-use shopping bags at stores that sell food takes effect March 1.
City councilors unanimously passed the measure last September, making South Portland the second city in the state to do so. The language in South Portland heavily draws from Portland’s law, which went into effect last April.
The ordinance will require food retailers to charge customers five cents per paper or plastic bag. It will only affect retailers whose food sales exceed 2 percent of gross sales; proceeds from the fees will remain with the retailers.
The same retailers will also be banned from serving or selling food in polystyrene, including foam coffee cups and takeout containers.
Those who violate the ordinance will receive a warning the first time, a fine of $250 for the second violation, and up to $500 for each subsequent violation in the same year.
Other municipalities are on similar paths. Brunswick has a hearing scheduled March 21 on a proposed polystyrene ban; Falmouth will enact a nickel fee for single-use bags at the town’s six largest retailers starting April 1, and Freeport will seek voter input in a June referendum to determine whether to enact a 5-cent fee on single-use bags.
Food retailers in South Portland have had six months to make the transition, with assistance from Julie Rosenbach, the city’s sustainability coordinator. In addition to providing retail businesses with information and fielding questions from business owners and residents, she said she has distributed at least 500 reusable bags across the city.
Some retailers, including Hannaford Bros., which has two supermarkets in South Portland, will offer patrons free reusable bags at checkout during the last week of February.
“Hannaford is committed to making this transition as smooth and easy for customers as possible,” Cheryl Hinkson, director of operations for the chain, said in a Feb. 17 press release.
Rosenbach is also preparing a voluntary survey to be distributed after the changes take effect, to chart how many paper and plastic bags businesses were using before and after the ordinance.
The effects of the law won’t necessarily have a profound effect on the waste stream, Rosenbach said Wednesday. However, she said it will hopefully reduce the amount of litter on land and in the ocean, therefore reducing the materials being ingested by wildlife.
This switch isn’t going to solve “all the waste and recycling problems, but they’re a really good way” to acknowledge a problem and actively address it, she said. “We see this as a really positive step.”
Conceptually, the effects are just as important. “Really, I think they’re going to make a big impact on influencing more sustainable behaviors from people,” Rosenbach said. “But they’re one step.”
“The goal of these ordinances is to promote and to think about our consumption patterns and to rethink convenience,” Rosenbach said. “To make sure we’re looking at not just switching our bags out for a sturdier version, but we’re looking at our consumption, (and) to rethink our consumption patterns – how do we consume and what do we need to consume?”
Starting March 1, South Portland will institute a five-cent fee on single-use shopping bags like this one, and a ban on the use of polystyrene food containers.