The Saco City Council is considering a proposal to ban single-use plastic shopping bags and require a 5-cent charge for paper bags.
Supporters of the bag ban say plastic is not biodegradable, creates litter and is especially harmful to sensitive marine ecosystems, but other councilors say they don’t want to rush into a decision without first learning about how it would affect residents and businesses.
The City Council is scheduled to hold a first reading Monday on the proposal, followed by a public hearing two weeks later and a final vote in mid-December. If Saco approves the ban on single-use plastic bag, it will become the fourth Maine community to do so.
York in 2015 became the first community in Maine to ban single-use plastic bags altogƒether. Freeport and Kennebunk followed suit, approving bans this year. Voters in all three communities overwhelmingly supported the bans. Other municipalities – including Portland, South Portland and Falmouth – have adopted fees for single-use plastic and paper bags.
“Other communities are taking action along these lines regarding trying to stem the flow of plastic bags,” said Bob Hamblen, Saco’s city planner. “We think that Saco should follow suit.”
The idea to pursue the ban was brought up by Councilors Eric Cote and Roger Gay. Cote said Saco is known for being environmentally friendly and the ban is an important step for a coastal community. He said plastic bags – which don’t break down easily – get into the water, causing problems for the ecosystem and wildlife.
The proposed ordinance would prohibit grocery stores such as Shaw’s and Hannaford from using single-use plastic bags and would require them to charge 5 cents for paper bags. Those restrictions would not apply to restaurants or smaller stores, including gas stations and drugstores, Hamblen said. Violations would be punishable with a $250 fine for a first offense and $500 for the second and each subsequent violation.
In September, the city approved a ban on polystyrene, or Styrofoam, products.
Cote, who has used reusable shopping bags for years, said it is important for Saco to protect the environment and encourage residents to use reusable bags when they shop.
“They’re bigger and stronger and easier to use,” he said of reusable bags.
Councilor David Precourt said he supports the idea of banning plastic bags, but worries about the cost for small businesses.
“It’s not business-friendly to be banning stuff without looking at the big picture of how it’s impacting small businesses and the economy around here,” he said.
Precourt said he but does not want to add a 5-cent fee for paper bags and will offer an amendment to remove that requirement.
“We’re a state of trees and paper mills,” he said. “To basically take that renewable resource out of the scheme of things is not beneficial to the state of Maine or the local economy.”
Councilor William Doyle said the ban on plastic bags is “an admirable goal for the city” but wants to look at the issue further before supporting it. He said he currently is “not necessarily opposed” to the ban but is looking forward to hearing input from residents and business owners during the public hearing.
“As Saco tries to move forward to be a destination community and bring more business, is this the right move at this point?” he said. “I think all of us feel the goal is admirable, but what the impact is going to be is something we really need to look at before going forward with a feel-good vote.”
Hamblem said a public hearing on the proposal likely will be scheduled for Dec. 5, followed by a final council vote on Dec. 19. If approved, the ordinance would take effect 30 days after the final vote.
“From a staff perspective, I think this is a great suggestion on the council’s part,” he said. “It’s clear that products like Styrofoam and plastic once had their place in American society, and I’m pleased that some communities are taking notice that they don’t want to see these nonrecyclable materials in their waste stream and are willing to make changes.”