BRUNSWICK — Members of the Brunswick Town Council expressed both support and concern Monday about proposals to require retailers to collect a 5-cent fee on disposable shopping bags and to ban foam food and beverage containers.

After an hour of presentations and discussion, the council sent the issue back to the town’s Recycling and Sustainability Committee to continue examining whether Brunswick should join the small number of Maine communities turning to bag fees or bans to encourage shoppers to switch to reusable bags.

“You’ve heard concerns voiced. I don’t really hear consensus,” Council Chairwoman Sarah Brayman said. “I hear strong support and I hear strong questions about this issue.”

Members of an organization called Bring Your Own Bag – MidCoast unveiled their proposals last week to require most retailers in Brunswick and Topsham to collect a 5-cent fee for single-use plastic and paper bags. Supporters say bag fees – already in place in more than 100 communities across the country – can help decrease the amount of non-biodegradable plastic that litters the environment and oceans, and clogs sewers and wastewater treatment plants.

Retailers would be able to keep the 5-cent fee, which the drafters hope will help make the proposal more palatable to businesses. Under a second proposal, the group wants to ban polystyrene foam containers used for food and beverages, such as Styrofoam coffee cups.

The proposed ordinances are modeled after policies that went into effect in Portland on April 15 and sparked similar debates in other Maine towns. South Portland followed suit by passing identical policies earlier this year, and bag fees or bans are under consideration in Falmouth, Freeport, Kennebunk and York.


Although modeled after Portland’s ordinance, the Brunswick bag fee proposal, as well as an initiative planned for Topsham, would apply to all retailers except dry cleaners, restaurants and stores that already re-use disposable shopping bags. Portland’s 5-cent fee only applies to retailers where food accounts for more than 2 percent of sales.

BYOB-MidCoast co-founder Marcia Harrington said the group has collected more than 1,000 signatures from Brunswick and Topsham residents, as well as the support of several dozen local businesses.

In Topsham, the proposal has been presented to the Board of Selectmen and backers hope it will be on the town meeting agenda next spring.

“Our group has really worked hard to reach out to the community and let people know about our proposal,” Harrington said.


Several councilors expressed strong support for the proposal, which would be subject to a public hearing and additional votes if it returns to the council.


“We have to start somewhere and it’s important for us to start here,” said Councilor Jane Millett, backing the proposal co-sponsored by Councilors Kathy Wilson and Stephen Walker.

Others were more skeptical.

Councilor John Perreault said he is “not a big fan” of passing an ordinance that the town can’t enforce, noting that Brunswick currently does not have a code enforcement officer.

“I’ll be interested to see if this comes back and, if it does, I’m not sure I will support it,” Perreault said.

Councilor Suzan Wilson said she also was concerned about enforceability and about such “piecemeal,” town-by-town attempts at addressing a much larger issue.

“I’m not in love with the proposal as proposed, but I do appreciate the conversation,” she said.


The issue now heads back to the town’s nine-member Recycling and Sustainability Committee, comprised of representatives from the town as well as staff and Town Council liaisons. The committee has already received presentations from BYOB-MidCoast members. Committee chairman Alex Anesko called the proposal “solid and also, at the end of the day, very conservative in that it is based on programs that have been implemented successfully elsewhere in the state and around the country.”

Several major cities, such as Seattle, San Francisco and Washington, D.C., have banned or imposed fees on plastic bags for years. More than 80 municipalities in California have adopted such policies, and the California Legislature passed a bill in 2014 banning plastic bags at most food retailers and charging 10 cents for paper bags, although that bill is headed to a statewide referendum next year.

Hawaii became the first state to effectively ban single-use plastic grocery bags when all four of the state’s counties passed separate bills. The anti-disposable bag campaign has been slower to catch on in New England, however, with roughly a dozen municipalities, including Portland, enacting local ordinances, according to a running tally of policies nationwide compiled by the Surfrider Foundation, a nonprofit involved in beach access and ocean pollution issues.


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