WATERVILLE — A group planning to recommend city regulations on single-use shopping bags in Waterville may look to mirror the efforts of Portland, where an ordinance puts a 5-cent fee on plastic and paper bags in stores that sell a certain amount of food items.

The Sustain Mid Maine Coalition, the group leading the effort, met for the second time on the issue Tuesday in City Hall. Those in attendance favored modeling a Waterville ordinance on the one Portland enacted in 2015. It placed a fee on paper and plastic bags at stores with greater than 2 percent of sales coming from food.

Stu Silverstein, a member of the coalition’s Rethink, Reduce, Reuse Recycle Team and a member of the city’s Solid Waste Committee, said the Portland ordinance was “the best one” for Waterville since it has already been written and implemented. He said he did not want to get into another “bruising battle” like the kind that occurred when the city moved to its purple bag system for trash collection, known as the pay-as-you-throw system. Some residents were initially critical of the program, though it ultimately was put into place.

Linda Woods, coordinator of the coalition, said the group favors a fee on the bags over an outright ban. Silverstein said he thought a ban would have a negative connotation. The group also appeared to be in favor of including paper bags in the regulation, after only discussing plastic bags at its July meeting.

Even as the group works on the proposal, it’s likely to encounter opposition from the City Council. Reached by phone later Tuesday, Waterville Mayor Nick Isgro said he was not in favor of placing a fee on the bags. He was aware of the work the group was doing, but said they had not yet presented anything to the City Council.

The mayor called it “an incredibly controversial issue,” especially in light of the pay-as-you-throw method for trash disposal, which generated some debate.

“In general I do not support a fee on bags,” Isgro said. “However, I think that this is one of those issues that there will probably be a lot of discussion. I think they have a long way to go to implement a fee on bags.”

Elery Keene, who is on the board of directors of Sustain Mid Maine, said at Tuesday’s meeting that he initially did have some reservations about including paper bags in the regulation, and wondered if it could have an impact on Maine paper companies. Sarah Lakeman, sustainable Maine project director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine, said Maine companies don’t make paper bags, and Keene pointed out it would be good to educate people about that.

Lakeman said the strongest ordinances encourage using reusable bags, which is why there is a need to regulate both paper and plastic. She said since Portland was the first to enact regulations with fees, that has become the trend in Maine. She said if the issue is litter from the bags, a ban would be better, but if the goal is to encourage a cultural shift, a fee is best. In Portland and other towns the 5-cent fee remains with the retailer, which Lakeman said was easiest in terms of administration. But the fee could theoretically go to the city for cleanup efforts or other causes, she said, but shouldn’t go to the city without a purpose.

“The purpose is not to create a tax or a new fund; it’s to encourage reusable bags,” Lakeman said.

Keene said he was concerned the 5-cent fee might not be enough to make people want to switch to reusable bags.

The group is planning to give a presentation to the City Council at some point, in hopes of getting feedback to continue work on the ordinance. Lakeman said they should also plan to hold public events to educate people on the efforts.

Lakeman acknowledged the group they may face pushback from opponents, which has happened in other cities and towns implementing regulations. She advised the group to conduct a survey of area businesses that would be affected by any regulations. She also told the group to talk to the city councilors to “see what is politically feasible.”

The group will meet again on Thursday, Sept. 14, at 1 p.m. in City Hall.

Colin Ellis can be contacted at 861-9253 or at:

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