SOUTH PORTLAND — The City Council on Wednesday approved a 5-cent charge for disposable shopping bags at retailers and a ban on polystyrene products, mimicking Portland’s ordinances that went into effect in April.

Both votes – which are subject to a final vote on Sept. 21 – were unanimous. If the votes stand, South Portland would be the second Maine community after Portland to charge for plastic bags, joining more than 150 nationwide in an effort to encourage the use of environmentally friendly reusable bags.

The changes are tentatively set to go into effect March 1.

“What we are talking about is changing behaviors in a throwaway society,” said Councilor Claude Morgan.

Mayor Linda Cohen said the bags are ubiquitous – she said she sees them “hanging off of trees,” utility poles and littering the city’s waterfronts.

The vote did not draw much opposition from the public – only a few regular council attendees were in the audience.

But resident James Hoy said he cleans up a lot of litter in South Portland, and he doesn’t see the bags as much as other litter. Hoy said people should be taking personal responsibility for their actions and choosing reusable bags, not because of the city’s nagging.

“I don’t think the government needs to be telling us, ‘No bag for you,’ ” Hoy said.

Resident Patricia White disagreed, saying that she’s “all for trying to stop the use of plastic bags.”

The 5-cent charge for customers would be returned to the retailers – which include supermarkets, drug stores and convenience stores.

While plastic bags get the most attention, the ordinance also institutes a 5-cent charge for the less-used paper bags. Councilor Tom Blake proposed an amendment that would have exempted paper bags, arguing that they are more often made in the United States and that they are sturdier. At the meeting, Blake pulled out a Trader Joe’s paper bag that he said he used five times.

But Councilor Patti Smith said that paper bags are “energy intensive” to manufacture, and that the idea of the ordinance is to encourage re-use and reduce the number of bags thrown away, paper or plastic. Blake’s amendment failed.

Meanwhile, polystyrene, also known as Styrofoam, is high on the list of products that environmentalists want to limit or ban, as it is not easily recyclable and is not biodegradable.

Cohen said she talked to many businesses about the proposed polystyrene ban, and most retailers had either already stopped using it or were supportive when told the reasons South Portland was considering the ban. About 100 communities across the country have banned polystyrene.


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