The Freeport Town Council voted unanimously Tuesday to pursue an ordinance to ban or impose a fee on single-use bags as part of an effort to compel shoppers to choose reusable options instead.

The 5-0 vote, with two councilors absent, came after more than two hours of resounding support from members of the public, who urged the councilors to take action against wasteful single-use items.

“I’m old enough to remember before lightweight plastic bags, and the whole world seemed to have successful commerce without these trivial little items,” said Daniel Freund, 61, of South Freeport. “It seems fairly straightforward to me.”

Hammering out the precise limits the ordinance would place on businesses is likely to be far more complex for a town that draws about 1.5 million shoppers annually to outlets and other retailers, including L.L. Bean’s flagship store.

Councilors will be contemplating whether to completely ban both paper and plastic single-use bags, place a fee on one or both, or some other incentive structure designed to nudge stores and consumers to use more environmentally friendly packaging.

While other communities around the country have banned plastic bags, Freeport would be the first to do so in Maine. Environmental advocates say the bags do not break down in the environment, instead degrading into smaller and smaller pieces that make their way into the food chain.

They are also a blight on communities both urban and rural, hanging on tree branches, catching in storm drains, and clogging rivers and streams.

One resident said she lost count of how many bags she spotted on her way to the meeting Tuesday night; another resident said local clammers are finding them buried in the sand and in the Harraseeket River.

The discussion by the public and the councilors came the night before Portland was to implement a 5-cent fee for plastic bags at some retailers, and the ban of polystyrene packaging for most food-selling establishments – a model that members of the public and the Freeport council said was useful.

Banning bags in Freeport was first suggested in July 2014 by two Freeport High School seniors. The idea has been the subject of study and debate in the town’s ordinance committee.

Committee Chair Sarah Tracy said that because of the far-reaching implications of such a ban or fee, she felt an up-or-down indication from the councilors was necessary before more time and energy went into examining the issue, saying the town is “considering all options at this point.”

An outright ban would be the most severe path.

“Having a ban on paper and plastic, is that realistic in Freeport? Probably not,” said Kate Bacon, vice chair of the town’s solid waste and recycling committee.

“But we’d like to see some incentives for people to use reusable bags.”

The council will call on the solid waste and recycling committee, as well as the Freeport Economic Development Corporation, to perform the calculations and analysis of what the cost and benefits of different incentive structures might be.

Keith McBride, executive director of the FEDC, is eager to begin the study of bag use in Freeport, even if gathering data means staking out stores to count shopping bags.

But he and others lamented the difficulty of unwinding how much the removal of bags from Freeport’s economy will be felt by residents and visitors.

Larger cities, such as Los Angeles, have performed extensive research on the matter, but applying it to Freeport, a town of 8,100, will require some major adjustments.

“I would like to make this accurate as possible, but I think no matter what it will be littered with some assumptions,” McBride said, pardoning the pun.

The challenge of those tasks was apparent to councilor Andy Wellen, who sought to clarify what, exactly, the groups would be analyzing. The council tweaked its resolution at Wellen’s request, asking the committees to perform a life cycle analysis of paper and plastic bags that would factor in the costs, both financial and environmental, of each product from its initial production until it is disposed of or discarded.

Councilor Kristina Egan said she hopes the committee will move swiftly, and bring an ordinance for discussion or a vote within the next several months.


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