The Saco City Council on Monday approved a ban on single-use plastic bags, making the city the fifth community in the state to do so.
But Saco is the second municipality to implement a ban through a city council vote. In 2015, the town of York became the first community in Maine to ban single-use plastic bags altogether when voters approved the ordinance in a narrow vote. Freeport and Kennebunk voters approved bans the following year. The Brunswick Town Council approved a bag ban on March 21.
Several other municipalities, including Portland and South Portland, have adopted fees for single-use plastic and paper bags.
Last September, Saco approved a ban on polystyrene, or Styrofoam, products.
Councilor Alan Minthorn said plastic is not biodegradable, creates litter and is especially harmful to sensitive marine ecosystems like the ones found in coastal Saco.
“The city’s goal is to discourage single-use bags and encourage the use of reusable bags,” Minthorn said.
The proposal bans single-use plastic shopping bags – like the bags used at grocery and convenience stores – and applies 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 can 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.
The ordinance goes into effect in 30 days. 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.
When the council first considered a bag ban last year, the proposed ordinance would have banned plastic bags and implemented a 5-cent charge for paper bags. Several councilors questioned if that fee would have a negative impact on residents. After tabling the item for several months to allow staff time to do more research, the council decided not to include a fee for paper bags.
Correction: This story was updated at 7:45 a.m., April 5, 2017, to reflect that Saco is the fifth municipality in Maine to adopt a ban on single-use plastic shopping bags, and it is the second to implement the ban through a council vote.