BATH — The Bath City Council has repealed a 5-cent fee on paper bags nearly a year after the city started its plastic bag ban.

Last April, on Earth Day, the city enacted a ban on single-use plastic bags. The ordinance also included a 5-cent fee on single-use paper bags, which was set to increase to 15 cents per paper bag this month. The ban is meant to deter single-use products in the city, encouraging residents to purchase reusable bags and asking businesses to find more environment-friendly alternatives.

The 5-cent fee was meant to discourage the use of large, paper grocery bags, but Bath City Manager Peter Owen said the city has learned over the past year that are a number of uses for smaller paper bags that have fallen under the ordinance.

“I don’t think what was really recognized was the number of merchants who provide small bags at the point of sale — whether you’re selling a book or a danish or just a small thing and someone wants it in a bag,” explained Owen.

“There’s been a real pushback by the business community,” he added. “They don’t want the charge, and we made it mandatory.”

The fee does go directly to the business, not the city, but Owen said that many businesses would rather not charge the fee at all.

While co-owner of The Mustard Seed Bookstore Julie Shea said she wasn’t upset about the paper bag fee, she chose not to implement it in her establishment, in quiet defiance of the city’s ordinance.

“We chose to still give away our bags,” said Shea. “I know that’s against the ordinance, but I wasn’t going to choose to pass that cost on to the customers.”

“I agree with no plastic. I totally agree with that,” said Shea. “But I do feel that, why not let the shopkeepers make that decision, whether they’re going to charge for the bags or not?”

The change adopted by the city council Wednesday would make that fee optional for businesses.

Owen and members of the council noted that while the plastic bag ban overall has been a success, the fee on paper bags was not very practical.

“Part of it has worked, and part of it hasn’t,” noted City Council Chairwoman Mari Eosco.

“I think the plastic bag ban has gone well, and that was really the intent of this ordinance,” said Owen.

Public Works Director Lee Leiner added that plastic and paper bag bans were still new in many communities, meaning that there is still a learning process to find out what the best practices are. He said he expected the Bath single-use plastic bag ban to continue to evolve in the future.

According to the website, Bath is among 21 Maine communities that have either outright banned single-use plastic bags or placed some sort of fee on their usage. Those towns include Brunswick, Freeport and Topsham. And now legislators in Augusta are considering a state-wide ban on most single-use plastic bags.

The Bath City Council will vote on second passage of the change at their May 1 council meeting.

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