Biddeford is examining whether to ban plastic bags. Neighboring communities Saco and Kennebunk have already enacted a ban on plastic bags. FILE PHOTO

BIDDEFORD – Looking to address issues with recycling in Biddeford, the Policy Committee voted unanimously on Monday, March 18 to send a plastic bag ban to the city council for approval.

According to statistics provided by the Center for Biological Diversity, Americans use 100 billion plastic bags a year, with the average family bringing home nearly 1,500 per household. Of those bags, 1 percent is recycled correctly each year, with the rest ending up in landfills.

Plastic bags cause significant impact on the processing of single-sort recycling methods, the modus operandi of Biddeford. A single-sort (or zero-sort) recycling program means that all recyclable material can be put in a recycling bin, which will then be sorted later at the facility. For example, where in some cities different colored containers are assigned for residents to separate glass, paper and plastic, in this program all recyclable items are consolidated into one bin.

After recycling is sorted at respective centers, facilities such as Pine Tree Waste – which serves Biddeford – and ecomaine, sell eligible materials to companies in China, which, until this year, would accept recycled material that was 1.5 percent contaminated. In 2017, however, China passed the National Sword Policy, aimed at reducing the amount of pollution that enters the country. The policy, which went into effect March 1, reduces the amount of contaminated material that would be accepted to .5 percent. Common examples of contaminated material include greasy pizza boxes, plastic bags and yard waste.

Public Works Director Jeff Demers introduced the option of a plastic bag ban in a November memo updating the progress of recycling contamination. In the memo, Demers detailed the problems and possible solutions, as new regulations enacted on recyclable material by China have caused fees and fines to be applied to materials collected by Pine Tree Waste.

Demers also suggested educating the community on how to best recycle plastic bags, noting that most major retailers have a receptacle on site to properly dispose of the bags, but said it would be difficult to enforce.

During the Policy Committee meeting, Demers said because of press coverage of recycling initiatives, a ban of plastic bags will not come as a surprise to the community.

Neighboring communities Saco and Kennebunk have already enacted a ban on plastic bags, with Saco providing paper bags and offering reusable plastic bags of a more durable plastic for 10 cents each.

Ward 6 Councilor Norman Belanger asked about pushback from businesses regarding the imminent ban, Demers said Code Enforcement Officer Roby Fecteau has reached out to a number of businesses and all have been open to the change.

“The word is out there,” Demers said, adding that businesses will have 90 days to adjust to the change pending council approval. “We are sensitive that this will affect the way that they do business.”

The ban on plastic bags will apply to all shopping bags used when cashing out at stores, but will continue to allow the use of bags that are used to hold produce.

A portion of the amended ordinance states that because Biddeford is a coastal city, lying both on the Saco River and Atlantic Ocean, the city should be conscientious of the impact that plastic bags have on the ocean. While most plastic bags are used for an average of 12 minutes, more than 100,000 marine animals are killed by plastic bags annually.

Policy Committee member Nathan Bean suggested that a fee or tax be accompanied with the purchase of paper bags. Bean said he had done research on other cities that have enacted a plastic ban bag, such as California, which saw a drop of 72 percent in plastic bag litter from 2010 to 2017.

“Nationally, these bans are working,” Bean said. “Having a fee will encourage the use of reusable plastic bags, which is the point. Paper bags present a hazard to the environment too.”

Committee member Renee O’Neil requested that Demers reach out to neighboring communities to see the effect and progress they have made since banning plastic bags.

“I think it would be helpful to hear from Saco,” O’Neill said. “It would be nice to be able to hear of problems and mitigate them ahead of time.”

The ordinance change will next head to city council for readings and a public hearing prior to approval.

Contact Staff Writer Abigail Worthing at [email protected]

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