York will become the first town in Maine to ban single-use plastic shopping bags, a move that drew little opposition from residents and business owners.
The ordinance designed to eliminate the use of single-use plastic bags by retail and grocery stores, easily passed by a vote of 1,649-1,151. Supporters say most businesses and residents seem to be on board with taking measurable steps to protect the environment.
“I think it’s very forward-thinking. It’s moving in the right direction,” resident Natalie Bychock said after shopping at Rite Aid on Wednesday afternoon. “Now I’m going to have to remember to carry a bag with me.”
York made history with its vote, but is not the first community to consider limits on single-use plastic bags. Two cities in southern Maine have adopted fees for plastic bags, while several others are considering similar proposals. Portland’s 5-cent plastic bag fee went into effect in April and South Portland has a similar fee set to take effect in March. Brunswick, Falmouth, Freeport and Topsham are among at least five other communities considering bag fees or bans.
The York measure was backed by the group Bring Your Own Bag York and had the unanimous backing of the Board of Selectmen.
Victoria Simon, chairwoman of Bring Your Own Bag York, said Tuesday’s vote was the culmination of nearly three years of work. She said no one spoke against the ban during two public hearings and there was no organized opposition to the ballot measure.
“I’m hoping to inspire all the towns and cities that are interested in doing this to move forward with whatever ordinance that will work for them,” Simon said. “It doesn’t necessarily have to be a ban. So far, we’ve seen both bans and fees achieve the result of reducing single-use plastic bags.”
The ban targets the single-use plastic bags typically used by grocery and convenience stores. Single-use plastic bags used for dry cleaning, newspapers, produce, meat, lobsters, fish, bulk foods and wet items will still be allowed. The initial proposal would have instituted a fee for paper bags, but that was dropped because of opposition from selectmen and business owners.
Businesses that do not comply with the ban face a $50 fine for a first offense and $100 for the second and subsequent offenses.
Stephen Burns, the town manager, said town selectmen worked with Bring Your Own Bag York to craft an ordinance that addressed concerns about the impact of plastic bags on the environment while balancing concerns about the effect of a ban on local businesses. He said there was some concern about the reaction from the Hannaford supermarket, the largest retailer in York affected by the ban.
“They said they’ll make it work,” Burns said. “Their response was gracious and appropriate.”
Hannaford spokesman Eric Blom said the company doesn’t take a position on bag bans or fees and will comply with York’s ordinance.
“It’s up to the community to decide what works for them,” he said. “We’ll make it work for our customers.”
Rite Aid officials are aware of the ban and will be in compliance when it goes into effect, spokeswoman Kristin Kellum said. Stonewall Kitchen and Eldredge Lumber, which both have locations in York, had previously stopped using plastic bags, company representatives said.
Carrie McKie, owner of the Yarn Sellar, switched her shop to paper bags after Portland adopted its bag fee. She has since hung up signs encouraging customers to bring their own bags and sells reusable bags for 75 cents. She said she heard some concerns about the cost of paper bags for businesses and from residents who say they reuse plastic bags, but overall people seemed supportive of the ban.
“If we didn’t ban them, people would still use them,” she said. “Ideally, we want people to use their own bags.”
Burns said there are some details that need to be ironed out before the ordinance goes into effect on March 1. Seasonal businesses may have a stockpile of plastic bags from last summer they don’t have time to use up before March, he said. Even one town-owned business – the gift shop by Nubble Light – will have to adjust to the new ban on plastic bags.
“We’ll have to put our thinking caps on and work through some of those little details,” he said.
Residents out shopping Wednesday afternoon said they support the ban, though they understand why some people may not.
“I think it’s kind of pointless,” said Clarissa Schooley, a senior at York High School. “I don’t think using paper bags is much better for the environment. It would be much better if people remembered to bring their own.”
Diana Parton said she voted in favor of the ban.
“It’s hard for merchants, but the more people bring their reusable bags, the better for the environment,” she said.
Simon said residents responded positively to the campaign leading up the vote and many people report they are using reusable bags.
“People who have started to make the change (to reusable bags) say it’s really not that hard,” Simon said. “It’s just about developing a new habit.”