Rachael Glick bags groceries in plastic bags Thursday at Brackett’s Market in Bath. The city will prohibit the use of plastic bags as of April 22. Staff photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette

BATH — This city has become the 11th Maine community to ban or impose fees on disposable plastic bags and polystyrene foam.

But the Bath City Council has taken the movement a step further. It also imposed a 5-cent fee on paper shopping bags that will increase annually in 5-cent increments, capping at 15 cents per bag in the third year.

The two ordinances adopted Wednesday prohibit merchants from providing single-use plastic bags at the point of sale, and prohibit the use of polystyrene foam by retail food vendors and food packagers. The ordinances will take effect April 22, Earth Day, and follow similar action in surrounding communities.

Neighboring Brunswick and Topsham implemented ordinances this year banning or discouraging use of plastic bags, and Freeport recently banned single-use plastic bags after enforcing a ban on polystyrene foam for more than 25 years.

Bath’s escalating fee structure on the use of paper bags is the first of its kind in Maine. The fee’s goal is to create an increasing deterrent for customers accustomed to using shopping bags given out in stores. Paper bags, much like their plastic counterparts, typically get thrown out after being used one time.

“That’s kind of the opposite of sustainability,” said Lee Leiner, public works director for Bath.

Leiner and the city’s Solid Waste and Recycling Committee have worked on the details of the bans and fee since January, when they were tasked by the City Council to look into implementing new ordinances.

“People were seeing Brunswick do it, Topsham do it,” Leiner said. “The question came up, ‘Should Bath do it?’ ”

Bonnie Kindliman puts groceries in plastic bags at Brackett’s Market in Bath on Thursday. Kindliman has worked at Brackett’s for 21 years and says reusable bags raise issues of food safety if they aren’t washed often enough. Staff photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette

In Brunswick and Topsham, the citizen organization “Bring Your Own Bag” worked for nearly two years to get an ordinance implemented. While Brunswick’s council eventually voted 8-1 for a new ordinance, Topsham’s ordinance came about only after citizens collected petition signatures in response to the Select Board’s rejection of a fee or ban.

“It’s remarkable how quickly they were able to pull it off (in Bath),” said Marcia Harrington, a BYOB co-founder. “Most other towns have taken two to three years to get all of the feedback and have it happen.”

Harrington said the escalating fee structure on paper bags is a novel idea, and could help educate consumers on the issues associated with them.

“Not only are paper bags more expensive to retailers, but they also (generate) something like six times more greenhouse gases to manufacture and ship” than plastic bags, she said. The plastic bags don’t decompose and end up littering land and water around the globe. For those reasons, reusable shopping bags are the most environmentally friendly choice.

At Bath’s second public hearing on the issue Wednesday, no one from the public or on the council commented on the ordinances. According to Leiner, there was minimal opposition to the proposal throughout the city’s information sessions. Although some businesses were not entirely thrilled by the idea, they also weren’t hostile to it, he said.

“I think they just sort of thought it was inevitable,” Leiner said.

John Reny, president of the Reny’s department store chain, said that although he’s not in favor of the ordinances, he is willing to follow them. Reny’s has a large store in downtown Bath, one of its 18 locations in Maine.

“We will do whatever we have to do. And I know that a lot of communities are going through this,” he said.

Reny did express some frustration with handling the varying ordinances in communities implementing fees or bans. With Bath’s ban, Reny’s now has stores in five municipalities that have varying rules regarding the use of plastic bags, with still more towns contemplating rules of their own.

“No one is doing it the same way, which makes it confusing,” Reny said.

Other business owners in Bath also are resigned to following the new ordinance. Kim Brackett, co-owner of the downtown-Bath grocery store Brackett’s Market, said food safety was one of her chief concerns.

“Food safety has always been my major, major thing with this,” Brackett said. She noted that some of her staff have seen customers with reusable bags that clearly hadn’t been washed in a while, and they worry that could cause issues, especially when packaging raw meat.

“There have been some really grody bags,” Brackett said.

Bonnie Kindliman, who has worked at Brackett’s for 21 years, had similar concerns.

“I see bags in here that are pretty bad, and I’m putting food in them,” Kindliman said. She said most of the plastic bags she sees in the form of litter come from Bath’s landfill.

The plastic-bag ban didn’t make sense to Robert Rhonemus, who lives in neighboring Woolwich but does most of his shopping in Bath.

“I think it’s crazy,” he said. “See how many of the things I’m buying today are encased in plastic. Then all the plastic in my house is going into the trash. What’s banning the bags do?”

Regan Reed, owner of Wags and Whiskers in Bath, bags items for Nan Rand of Brunswick on Thursday using Rand’s reusable bags. Both women say they support the city’s move to ban plastic bags and charge fees for paper bags. Reed says she plans to sell reusable bags to customers at cost. Staff photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette

However, many residents and business owners are in full support.

Regan Reed, who operates Wags and Whiskers, a pet supply store in downtown Bath, said she has asked customers to provide their own bags for years, and uses only plastic bags that other people have brought in to be reused.

“We’re in support of it,” Reed said. She plans to order some reusable bags and sell them at cost to customers if they end up needing a bag.

Nan Rand, a Brunswick resident who was shopping in Bath, said she supports the ban, based on her experience with it in Brunswick. “I think it’s a good step,” she said.

Other businesses are taking a wait-and-see approach. Jody Murphy, at The Sandwich Shop, wasn’t sure how customers will react to the fees. The shop packages customers’ lunch orders in small paper bags that will fall under the fee structure.

“I do think some people will be upset,” Murphy said. “We’ll have to wait and see how the customers feel about it.”

Leiner said the city is planning to host more informational sessions before the bans and paper bag fee take effect in April, in addition to creating its own line of reusable bags.

“I believe we do have some funding,” he said. “I’m quite certain we will produce some kind of reusable bag.”