Jim Wellehan, owner of the Lamey Wellehan shoe store chain, came out against a ban proposed 20 years ago over disposable bags in the Augusta area. Speaking on Tuesday in Freeport, which is considering banning paper and plastic single-use bags, Wellehan changed his tune.

“Having done the wrong thing, what I tried to do is make up for it,” said Wellehan, noting that there are 46,000 pieces of plastic in every square mile of ocean. “We’ve got to do something.”

Wellehan, as well as a number of other Freeport residents and local activists, spoke in favor before the town council on a ban or fee imposed on single-use paper and plastic bags, noting that disposable plastic bags in particular were both an eyesore and a threat to the oceans.

Wording of an ordinance has yet to emerge. The council on Tuesday did unanimously vote for further analysis of the environmental impacts of disposable bags and the economic result of limiting the bags in town. The town’s ordinance committee will also take up the matter.

Freeport Hardware owner Woody Woodbury said he eliminated disposable plastic bags in his store last fall.

“It hasn’t affected my business in any way, shape or form,” said Woodbury. “Paper’s a little more expensive, but I’ve gotten more positive responses than negative.”

Yacob Olins, a member of Freeport High School’s Earth Club, presented a petition from 200 members of the school community supporting limiting single-use bags.

Plastic bags have been carried by the wind and are polluting clam flats, noted Delbert Arris, chairman of the Freeport Shellfish Commission. “As clammers, some of us are finding plastic out there,” Arris said. “We have plastic in the rivers already.”

No one from the public spoke against limiting disposable bags in town.

Freeport began examining the issue about a year ago, when Meredith Broderick and Elly Bengtsson, who were then recently graduated from Freeport High School, proposed an outright ban on disposable plastic bags.

Resident Sandy Thompson noted that Freeport was a leader in banning Styrofoam 25 years ago, something that few other governmental entities in the United State had done.

Freeport Economic Development Corporation will begin to analyze the the economic impact of a ban or fee. Keith McBride, director of the corporation, said it was important to explore “hidden costs” that may be passed onto consumers as a result of a ban.

Councilor Andy Wellen warned that some tourists visiting Freeport unaware of an outright ban may resent it.

Some residents, though, said such limitations may enhance Freeport’s reputation as a green destination.

Should it adopt limits on disposable bags, Freeport won’t be alone.

Portland recently enacted a 5-cent fee for disposable bags issued by certain retailers that takes effect today. Falmouth is also considering limitations. Windham passed a resolution seeking voluntary reduction in the use of plastic bags in 2012.

Sarah Lakeman of the Natural Resources Council of Maine, who was involved in pushing the passage of Portland’s recent ordinance, noted that there is a movement in Brunswick and Topsham to get similar ordinances passed this year.

Freeport’s ordinance ought to be based on Portland’s, according to Councilor Bill Rixon. Should Portland’s model be adopted, Freeport stores primarily affected would be Shaw’s, CVS and Bow Street Market.

“All the rest of the outlet stores will not be touched,” said Rixon.

Based on “resounding public opinion” on the issue, Councilor Kristina Egan said she would like to see an ordinance limiting singleuse bags adopted within the next few months.

“We shouldn’t really drag our feet on this,” Egan said.

Other councilors disagreed.

“I strongly believe that an economic analysis is important,” said Councilor Sarah Tracy. “What weighs on me … is how our residents are going to do financially.”

Council Chairwoman Melanie Sachs appeared to agree, saying, “It’s important to get this right.”

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The start

FREEPORT BEGAN examining the issue about a year ago, when Meredith Broderick and Elly Bengtsson, who were then recently graduated from Freeport High School, proposed an outright ban on disposable plastic bags.

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