Council finds more questions than answers on bag ban
Belfast — City councilors restated their interest in some kind of ordinance to reduce the number of single-use plastic bags leaving local stores, but members continue to wrestle with a seemingly endless list of considerations.
The proposed plastic bag ordinance originated with a local "ban the bag" citizen group that researched similar ordinances in other municipalities and made recommendations to the council.
Councilors initially considered a limited ban that would have required any store with more than 10,000 square feet and at least 2 percent of its merchandise food for direct consumption to charge 5 cents for plastic bags. The rules would have affected just two stores, Ocean State Job Lot and Hannaford. After hearing from members of the public that the proposed rules didn't go far enough, councilors went back to the drawing board with plans to expand the ordinance.
At the April 4 City Council meeting, the topic got about 20 minutes of conversation before being tabled for review at an upcoming work session.
Councilor Mary Mortier asked whether the ban shouldn't also include Styrofoam. Several other councilors wanted to limit the discussion to bags, and City Manager Joe Slocum said trying to regulate Styrofoam, because it is distributed differently than plastic bags, could run afoul of interstate commerce laws.
Councilor Neal Harkness said enforcement would become more complicated if more stores were included.
"If it's just one store," he said, "you could use public shaming, 'You said you would and you (didn't). But when it's a lot of stores, that gets us into a whole other level that we've got to talk about."
Other questions raised at the meeting included how to define a single-use plastic bag, the correct thickness of bag to regulate (Councilor John Arrison said it would be helpful to see samples of 3-mil and 4-mil bags), whether to regulate dog poop bags and produce bags in addition to grocery bags, and whether to ban bags entirely or require stores to charge a fee for them.
As of April 4, councilors appeared to be leaning toward a stiffer ban, with Councilor Eric Sanders arguing for a complete ban.
"You're not going to please everybody," Sanders said, "because they're going to go, 'That's not going to make an effect on the environment.' It certainly wouldn't hurt the environment to ban it."