Frequently Asked Questions

Which businesses would be affected? 

The bag fees would apply to single-use, disposable bags provided at check-out at all retail establishments including grocery stores, pharmacies, shops, convenience marts and other stores. The Styrofoam ban would apply to restaurants, delis, take-out food establishments and any stores in Brunswick and Topsham that prepare or serve food and beverages in Styrofoam containers.  So, for example, hot carry-out beverages would be covered by the ban, but not eggs that are being shipped into the community from elsewhere.

Great Blue Heron - Mere Point

Great Blue Heron – Mere Point

Why is this necessary

Plastics last a long time, yet our use is often for short-term purposes, and this is having a negative effect on the environment.[1]  The average American uses 78 Styrofoam cups and 630 plastic bags each year.[2] The amount of ocean debris has increased by 40% in the last decade and is overwhelmingly plastic. For an economy like Maine’s that is heavily based on fishing and tourism, the results are disturbing: Styrofoam and plastic bags are showing up on our shores; 663 species of marine animals are dying from entanglement or ingestion; and commercial fishing and shipping gear are getting tangled in the debris.[3]

Are other places doing this? 

Yes, more than 145 municipalities around the U.S. have placed bans or fees on single-use plastic and paper bags, including Portland.[4] Between 70-90 communities have restricted Styrofoam, including Portland and Freeport.[5]

What has been their experience with this type of ordinance?

In 2012 Washington, D.C., passed a similar 5-cent fee on single-use paper and plastic bags at check-out. In an independent survey conducted 2 years later, 80% of residents had reduced their use of plastic bags, over half of the residents (53%) and businesses (63%) supported the fee, and half of businesses (50%) were saving money.

How expensive are the alternatives?

There are reusable bags that are similar in price to plastic bags on a per-use basis, and cheaper than paper bags. [6] There are also biodegradable and hard-plastic (but recyclable!) food and beverage containers that can be purchased in lieu of Styrofoam at the same price or cheaper. Contact us for further information.

Why not ban plastic bags altogether instead of a 5-cent fee?

Changing people’s behavior takes time. A small charge may help move residents in the right direction of transitioning to recyclable bags and other containers.  

Will the Styrofoam ban cover items packaged outside of Brunswick/Topsham

Our proposal is designed to be practical.  We seek to protect our environment (and Maine’s tourist and marine economy), with as little disruption to businesses as possible.

Isn’t this really just another tax

No, it’s a fee because if people bring their bags, they don’t pay. Bags can be cloth or even reused paper/plastic bags from the past. It is appropriate to have such a fee, because there is already a cost to communities when bags pollute our environment, including clean-up costs.

What about customers who can’t afford the 5-cent bag fee?

Customers currently pay an average hidden cost of $3.25 for their groceries, under the current system of single-use bags.  On a per-use basis, reusable bags are the same price as plastic bags and cheaper than paper ones. [6] When businesses save money, they can transfer the savings to consumers–not unlike the discount we receive when we bring our own mug to the coffee shop.

In Portland, stores, including Hannaford’s, gave out free reusable bags to customers when the fee was enacted and local organizations are providing support to ensure reusable bags are accessible and affordable. We hope for a similar situation here. In addition, BYOB Midcoast will also look to raise money for reusable bags to distribute.  

Who keeps the fee?

We are recommending that retailers keep the fee, which they can use for any legal purpose they see fit. In communities that have bag ordinances similar to Portland, many stores have opted to pass on the collected fee to charities of their choosing. For example, Hannaford’s, in Portland, is donating its fee to local hunger relief organizations.

Why are you proposing a 5-cent fee on paper bags since they are biodegradable 

Producing paper bags, when compared to plastic, creates 70% more air pollution and 50 times more water pollutants, consumes four times more energy, and requires three times more water.[7] So while paper may be preferable post production, it’s footprint during production is concerning.

Do cloth bags harbor germs?

The American Chemistry Council, which lobbies on behalf of plastic bag manufacturers, is promoting this argument–an argument which Consumer Reports looked into and did not find persuasive.[8]  Like anything else in our environment, reusable bags can become contaminated and it’s a good idea to wash them from time to time.  This can be done by putting cloth bags in the washer or wiping down plastic-based reusable bags with vinegar or soap.   Good Housekeeping offers these tips.

Why isn’t the petition language more specific?

Our petition seeks to show a “sense of community sentiment.”  We have purposely left some of the details vague so that elected officials can work out what is best for our two communities.

I still have questions. What should I do?

Contact us! We are happy to answer your questions, and connect you to resources to address any concerns you may have. 

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[1] United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) http://www.cbd.int/doc/publications/cbd-ts-67-en.pdf

[2] Green Cities,  http://plasticbaglaws.org/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2010/04/MEA_green-cities-CA.pdf

[3] UNEP.

[4] Surfrider.org.  List at:  http://www.surfrider.org/pages/plastic-bag-bans-fees

[5] Clean Water Action, 2012. http://www.cleanwateraction.org/files/publications/PS%20bans%20as%20of%20July%20%202012.pdf

[6] AECOM Technical Services (AECOM). 2010. Economic Impact Analysis: Proposed Ban on Plastic Carryout Bags in Los Angeles County.

[7] Conservation Law Foundation blog http://www.clf.org/blog/maine/plastic-bag-ban-portland/

[8] Consumer Reports, 2010, http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/news/2010/07/can-reusable-grocery-bags-make-you-sick-or-is-that-just-baloney/index.htm 

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