Council finds more questions than answers on bag ban

By Ethan Andrews | Apr 14, 2017

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."

Comments (6)
Posted by: Kenneth W Hall | Apr 15, 2017 11:30

I guess my thought of surrounding towns benefiting an economic impact is I see and do it myself to go to an abutting town to buy gas that is less expensive then in my home town.  So I question if Belfast charges for bags and another town doesn't and a person living in Belfast that would travel to get gas, would be the same person to buy groceries from another grocer in another town.  That is an economic effect that might influence a new grocer or business to locate say on the east side just over the town line like in Searsport or Belmont or Northport.  Then Belfast tax revenues would be lost and the up charge of the bags would not come close to lost property tax of new businesses locating in town.  Maybe that is just my common sense, because I thought it was a good idea to save a tree and ban paper bags and look what that got me! LOL

Posted by: Kenneth W Hall | Apr 15, 2017 11:04

As I said protecting the earth is paramount, however what part of charging a small fee or a huge fee for that matter, is going to make the plastic bags go away?  We have a bottle return deposit.....does anyone ever see bottles discarded on the road side or in trash cans?  I am confused on what the actual purpose of the "ban" is if the bags can still be gotten at the stores???


The legislature a few years ago has a bill proposed to put deposits on cigarette butts which failed miserably I might add.  Same as a few decades ago people wanted to protect the harvest of the trees and ban all paper bags.  Imagine if the energy in this debate went to just going outside and picking up litter instead of debating back and forth?


Yes the bottle deposit implementation reduced the bottle on the side of the road but did not eliminate them.  Why  not go to a delivery system so that no one will ever have to leave their homes so all trash is kept in the persons property.  Brick and mortar is disappearing.  No one ever thought eliminating paper bags would lead to plastic bags.  What is this leading to.  Are we truly thinking out side the box for a solution?

Posted by: Harold Richardson | Apr 15, 2017 10:01

We need to stop throwing so much stuff away-we're ruining the planet and it's pretty simple to use totes. However, the people behind this effort should be honest about the reasons to ban these bags and not offer some cockamamie excuse about them polluting the bay when lost fishing equipment is by far the culprit.  One length of 100' lost poly rope is the equivalent of over 100,000 of these baggies and there are mega tons of lost rope out there.  OK I just totally made that up but I bet I'm close.  I'm betting there is zero evidence that these baggies are a source of pollution in the bay but we should still get rid of them and plastic bottles and styro-foam too-they're all bad in their own way.  Go Belfast!

Posted by: William A Baxter | Apr 15, 2017 08:18

I've visited areas with bag legislation in place.  In most, disposable bags weren't banned outright, but if you didn't supply your own (reusable) bag, you had to purchase the disposable bag, plastic or paper.  It applied to all stores, but still allowed the tourists passing through and spending their money to have the convenience of a bag for their purchases for a small fee.

There is probably a way to do this that accomplishes reduced use of plastic bags without chocking the success out of local business.

Posted by: Harold Richardson | Apr 15, 2017 07:01

Hi Ken-let me answer those for you.

No, no, no, no, no, no effect.

Posted by: Kenneth W Hall | Apr 14, 2017 17:18

How will tourists and seasonal people passing though be monitored?  Will this police be looking inside the vehicles when the added grant funding of the additional police department's OUI and speed, be able to monitor contraband plastic bags inside vehicles?  How does the city enforce this, build a wall?


So, if someone stops at Hannaford in Augusta, or Rockland, or Bangor, or Bucksport, do they have to prove place of origin of the bags when they get to Belfast?


I definitely think protecting the earth is paramount, however has anyone put the economic development on the other side of the scale?  Have the cities and towns that have banned bags, growing at the same rate as their abutting towns?  More ? Less?

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