The Saco City Council will hold a public hearing Monday on a proposal to ban all single-use plastic shopping bags in an effort to protect the environment and encourage shoppers to use reusable bags.

If approved, Saco will join three other Maine communities in banning single-use plastic bags altogether. Several other municipalities, including Portland and South Portland, have adopted fees for single-use plastic and paper bags.

Supporters of the bag ban say plastic is not biodegradable, creates litter and is especially harmful to sensitive marine ecosystems like the ones found in coastal Saco. But other councilors worried about the impact of a ban on residents and businesses. After researching the issue with city staff, the council moved away from the idea of requiring a 5-cent charge for paper bags, a fee they considered when the bag ban was first proposed late last year.

“This ordinance really is about encouraging reusable bags or degradable resin products,” said Meghan McInnis Doyon, the city’s special projects manager.

The idea to pursue the ban was brought up by councilors Eric Cote and Roger Gay, but was tabled to allow the city to look at various options for the ban. Cote said at the time that Saco is known for being environmentally friendly and that 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 proposal would ban single-use plastic shopping bags – like the bags used at grocery and convenience stores – and apply to all businesses that hold a business license from the city. Businesses may instead provide customers with paper bags, reusable bags or bags made from degradable resin compounds. If a retail business chooses not to provide a bag of any kind, a sign stating they are not available must be posted by the entrance. The city administrator would be able to exempt businesses from complying with the ordinance during major emergencies or disasters.

The ban does not include the plastic bags used in grocery stores for produce and seafood.

Businesses that do not comply with the ban face a fine of $250 for the first violation in a one-year period and up to $500 for each subsequent violation in the same year.

If approved by the council in early April, the ordinance goes into effect 30 days after the vote. But the city won’t enforce the ban for six months to give businesses time to use their existing inventory of plastic bags and find acceptable biodegradable opportunities. It will also give residents time to adjust to the idea, McInnis Doyon said.

In 2015, the town of York became the first community in Maine to ban single-use plastic bags altogether. Freeport and Kennebunk approved bans the following year.

Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at:

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