FALMOUTH — Beginning April 1, shoppers can expect a big change at a handful of the town’s largest stores.

April 1 is when the town’s 5-cent fee on single-use plastic and paper bags goes into effect at stores where the floor area exceeds 10,000 square feet: Shaw’s and Hannaford Bros. supermarkets, Wal-Mart, Rite Aid, Staples and Goodwill.

The Town Council unanimously approved amending the code of ordinances to regulate the bags back in January. Proceeds from the fee will remain with the retailers.

Kimberly Darling, the town’s energy and sustainability coordinator, said she has been in contact with the six stores and they are all ready to make the change. Darling said she provided them with signs announcing the date the regulation takes effect.

The new regulation was almost two years in the making. It began in June 2014, when the Town Council put the Recycling and Energy Advisory Committee on the task.

Darling said she and REAC members are excited to see the program finally become a reality. They will be giving away at least 200 reusable bags on March 31 at Town Hall, 271 Falmouth Road. The bags are blue and have the town’s seal on them.

She said time will tell if the ordinance actually reduces the use of disposable bags. “This is a great community to launch something like this in,” Darling said. “I see people using these bags everywhere I go.”

Starting Friday, Hannaford will also be giving away reusable bags. Representatives from Shaw’s and Wal-Mart indicated they may also give out reusable bags before April 1, but were unsure of when. Staples occasionally holds promotions when reusable bags are given away throughout the year, but will not do a giveaway preceding April 1. Goodwill is not providing free bags.

Falmouth will join Portland and South Portland as Maine municipalities that have taken some level of action to limit distribution of single-use paper and plastic bags. Portland enacted a 5-cent fee last April. South Portland enacted a fee on single-use shopping bags at certain stores, as well as a ban on serving or selling food in polystyrene, including foam coffee cups and takeout containers, on March 1. Brunswick is exploring regulation, and Freeport is planning an advisory town referendum on a plastic bag fee.

Falmouth’s regulation started as something more ambitious.

REAC’s initial proposal to the Town Council called for a two-year phase-out of single-use bags. The first year would have called for a 5-cent fee on on paper and plastic bags. In the second year and beyond, minus some exceptions, single-use plastic bags would have been banned, and the 5-cent fee would have remained on paper bags.

However, the council’s ordinance committee ultimately dropped the idea of an outright ban, at least for now. Council Vice Chairman Russell Anderson, who chaired the committee, said last October that switching to a ban would suggest an assumption that the fee would not be effective.

The ordinance committee unanimously recommended instituting the fee. However, councilors have said if the fee system is ineffective, they may take another look at a ban.

There are exceptions to the regulation, including dine-in and take-out restaurants, dry cleaners, horticultural nurseries and commercial greenhouses. Other exemptions include bags used exclusively to carry produce, meats and other food items and merchandise to the point of sale, or used to prevent those foods from touching other foods. Bags provided by pharmacists for prescription drugs are also exempt.

The ordinance language also defines reusable bags as being at least 4 millimeters thick, which prevents retailers from selling thinner bags as reusable. Portland’s ordinance allows the standard 2.25-millimeter thickness.

Colin Ellis can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @colinoellis.

Hannaford Bros. employee Lillian Haversat bags groceries Tuesday, March 22, at the Gray Road store in Falmouth. Hannaford is one of six stores in town that will have to charge a fee for single-use shopping bags beginning April 1.

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