PORTLAND – A national nonprofit organization dedicated to clean water and the preservation of the coast is taking a stand against plastic bags.

The City Council’s Energy and Environmental Sustainability Committee heard a presentation Thursday by Matthew Faulkner, a volunteer with the Surfrider Foundation. He said the organization is encouraging cities to impose 5- or 10-cent fees on plastic and paper bags to discourage their use.

“Each year in the United States alone, over 24 billion pounds of plastic packaging is produced, which is specifically designed to be thrown away as soon as that package is opened,” and none of it is biodegradable, Faulkner said.

He cited many cities and countries that have imposed fees on plastic and paper bags and had marked success in reducing their use.

The number of bags used in Ireland has dropped from 328 per person per year to 21 since the country started charging 15 cents per bag in 2002, Faulkner said.

Washington, D.C., enacted a 5-cent tax on bags in January 2010, reducing the use of plastic and paper bags by 80 percent and adding $2 million in revenue, he said.

Residents had mixed responses to the idea of charging consumers to use disposable bags.

Robert Haines said it would add financial stress for low-income families and discourage people from shopping within city limits.

“To add insult to injury, why don’t you get rid of the use of blue plastic rubbish bags?” Haines asked the committee members.

Mary Anne Mitchell of Peaks Island favored the idea, having experienced shopping in Washington, D.C., since its bag tax was imposed.

“When someone asks you, ‘Do you want a bag?’ you think about it,” she said. “We don’t think before we do something, but having somebody ask you makes you think, do I really need a bag?”

Councilors David Marshall, Jill Duson and Ed Suslovic, who make up the committee, agreed the fee is a good idea but wanted more information before revisiting the idea.

Duson suggested calling in business operators who would have to charge the fees, to get their opinions. Marshall wanted more information about reusable bags and alternatives to bag fees, such as using paper unless a customer requests plastic.

“But the goal of reducing the number of plastic bags we use is a good goal,” Marshall said.

Also Thursday, the committee heard an update on a composting effort in public schools and reviewed a draft wind power ordinance.

Martha Sheils and Susan Webster, members of the Waste Reduction Working Group, said three schools are separating food from recyclable materials and trash for composting. They hope to add three schools to the program each month.

Webster said the program helps the school system lead the way for the rest of the city to reach sustainability goals, and educates students on the benefits of composting and recycling.

It also is a smart economic move, with an estimated savings of $30,000 to $50,000 a year in disposal costs, she said.

Jean Fraser, a planner in the city’s development review program, updated the committee on the draft ordinance that outlines city regulations for wind turbines. The ordinance, now in its final stages, has developed over the past two years.

While each councilor expressed concerns about the feasibility of some wind turbines, the committee voted 2-1, with Marshall opposed, to send the draft ordinance to the council for a second reading.

Staff Writer Emma Bouthillette can be contacted at 791-6325 or at: [email protected]