The Freeport Ordinance Committee, which has been studying for a year a proposed ordinance on either banning or charging a fee for carry-out plastic bags, will invite public comment on the issue at its next meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 13, at 6 p.m.

It will then consider a recommendation to the Town Council.

Municipal rules on plastic bags are becoming more common. South Portland recently enacted an ordinance that charges a fee on the bags, similar to the one already in place in Portland.

Elly Bengtsson and Meredith Broderick, recent Freeport High School graduates, had made the suggestion to the Town Council in spring 2014. Backed by the town’s Recycling & Solid Waste Committee, they argued that plastic bags, made of petroleum-based material, are an environmental hazard, a danger to marine life and litter the landscape.

The Freeport Ordinance Committee – a Town Council subcommittee made up of Sarah Tracy, chairwoman, Andy Wellen and Scott Gleeson – has studied an outright ban on plastic bags and also an ordinance charging a fee. The Recycling & Solid Waste Committee issued a 14-page report to the Ordinance Committee in July, suggesting that the public should decide the matter in a referendum vote, an option that the Ordinance Committee will weigh on Oct. 13.

Following the public comment, the Ordinance Committee will consider the structure of the ordinance – if recommended – and whether the Town Council should make a determination or if the issue should be determined by the voters.

South Portland has followed the example of neighboring Portland, imposing a 5-cent fee for the plastic bags. Stores must keep records on bag use and the fees collected for three years, but the stores can also keep the fees they collect to use for any lawful business purpose. The fee in South Portland goes into effect on March 1, 2016.

According to the South Portland City Council resolution, the ordinance “aims to conserve resources, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, waste, and litter and to protect the public health and welfare, including wildlife,” by implementing the bag fee.

It remains to be seen if Freeport town officials will adopt a bag fee or an outright ban, or whether the use of paper bags also will be governed.

Last Thursday afternoon outside Shaw’s – the town’s largest user of carry-out plastic bags – Denise Robinson of Freeport loaded her trunk with several plastic bags full of groceries. Robinson said she gets the environmental concerns, but believes a town-imposed fee on the use of plastic bags is heavy-handed.

“I totally understand the plastic bags issue, and our problems with recycling them,” said Robinson, a Shaw’s employee. “I think paper is better. But I don’t think I should be charged if I forget to bring my own bag. I don’t think we should be charged for anything. I mean, aren’t we being charged enough for groceries? I just paid $160 for seven bags.”

Rock Nadeau of Freeport brought his own cloth bags for his groceries – just as he’s been doing for the past 10 years.

“I think it’s really convenient,” Nadeau said. “I just keep them in the car.”

Nadeau favors some sort of control on the use of plastic bags.

“I think in the long run, we’re going to benefit from that,” he said. “I prefer a public vote.”

Chris Dousmanis, visiting from Massachusetts, said her hometown of Great Barrington has “done away” with plastic bags. Dousmanis took a measured approach on the issue.

“Politically, I’m for it,” she said, “but if I don’t talk politically, I’m against it. I think it’s a gimmick. Somebody’s making money on this.”

Denise Robinson of Freeport loads her car up with groceries in plastic bags outside Shaw’s in Freeport last Thursday.Staff photo by Larry GrardRock Nadeau of Freeport has been using cloth bags to do his grocery shopping for 10 years.Staff photo by Larry Grard

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