Here is a compilation of press coverage on our campaign:
It’s easy these days to feel as if environmental protections are eroding, with federal measures that once seemed inviolable under siege. But at the local scale, there’s some cause for hope.
Four years ago this month, in the newly minted Source section, I wrote my first Sea Change column on the ecological costs of plastic bags and take-out polystyrene containers. At that time in Maine, only Freeport had taken action to limit these ubiquitous items that endanger wildlife, litter the landscape and break down into hazardous microplastics – threatening aquatic life. (And those pollution problems don’t even account for the fossil fuels and carbon emissions involved in plastic production.)
Now 13 Maine town and cities have placed fees or bans on single-use carryout plastic bags, and 10 have banned takeout food containers made from expanded polystyrene (foam). Still more municipalities are developing similar ordinances.
The communities that limit disposable plastics (see sidebar) still represent less than a fifth of Maine’s population, but their actions signal an important shift in public consciousness. Ned Lightner, a Belfast resident who helped organize his community’s recent bans, sees people starting to think more “about the damage of plastics.” What motivated him and his fellow organizers was a Penobscot Bay Stewards course, run by the Maine Coastal Program (Full disclosure: I worked for MCP more than two decades ago.) In that class, participants learned that typical samples of bay water contain upwards of 10 pieces of microplastics per liter. “That’s when it got kind of scary,” Lightner says, and participants began discussing actions they could take.
Bags and polystyrene containers are admittedly a small part of a vast marine debris challenge; a report by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation projects that – with worldwide use of plastic expected to double in the next two decades – global oceans by 2050 could have more plastic by weight than fish. What bans and fees can do is encourage people to adopt routines less reliant on throw-away, blow-away plastics.
In Belfast, Lightner reports, the bans that took effect in January appear to “heighten awareness about keeping our community clean.” They have inspired residents to plan a cleanup this May, spanning 59 roadside miles, that will give hundreds of volunteers a firsthand sense of how much plastic packaging escapes recycling and disposal systems.
“There’s a ton of education that goes into this,” says Falmouth Sustainability Coordinator Kimberly Darling, because many people assume that plastic bags and foam containers are readily recyclable. In short, neither is. Bags gum up sorting machinery at recycling facilities, and both materials are too light to economically transport to reprocessing facilities. No recycling facility in Maine even accepts expanded polystyrene.
Maine communities with bag or foam container ordinances have seen local residents and businesses adjust almost seamlessly to the change. There have been no compliance or enforcement issues, Darling says of Falmouth, and “it’s very rare to see folks not bringing their own bags.”
Each local ban does far more than shift the habits of community residents. It helps move Maine toward adopting more comprehensive legislation – like a bill put forward in the 2017 legislative session. Due to lobbying by grocery stores, retailers and – sadly – the Department of Environmental Protection, that bill got diluted from an outright ban to a measure simply discouraging use of plastic bags.
Yet as I noted four years ago, it makes no sense to tackle this problem town-by-town, more than 400 times over. Even many businesses eventually decide that a statewide ban is preferable to contending with a host of non-uniform ordinances. “I think that’s going to happen,” says Sarah Lakeman, sustainability director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine. “That’s exactly what happened in California,” she added, a state that now has a statewide ban.
A commitment to reducing the prevalence of plastics must start with manufacturers, but legislating change there will be hard in the current political climate. As more consumers clamor for alternatives, though, some corporations are moving away from single-use plastics. In Europe, a growing number of supermarkets now offer a wide array of plastic-free items.
Over the past few years, Lakeman says she has observed “a real shift in the public dialogue” in Maine, with broader agreement that “plastic is a bad idea.” Discussions now tend to focus on what the best alternatives are and how to “instill a culture of reusability.”
We have witnessed – with attitudes toward smoking – how quickly cultural shifts can happen. Perhaps we’re on the cusp of a similar tipping point, finally seeing that we’re literally swimming in plastics and need to stem the tide.
April 9 – https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/04/09/sportsmen-should-support-plastic-bag-ban-in-waterville/
Often when people think of environmentalists, they might think of left-leaning, impractical people, but those are not the only environmentalists. We should be aware that some of the strongest believers in a healthy environment are the hunters, fishermen, and snowmobilers. For example, Trout Unlimited has donated generously to many conservation projects. These people spend a lot of time outdoors, have a real appreciation of the natural world, and stand to lose like everyone else when the environment is despoiled.
Nobody wants to come across plastic bags in the forest or find them tangled up in branches by the stream side.
Reusable bags are cheap, readily available and do a much better job when we use them to haul groceries. Of all the cities and whole countries (France, for example) that have enacted such a ban, I am not aware that any has suffered economically.
It is time for Waterville to take a stand and say yes to the environment and no to single-use plastic bags.
April 7 – www.centralmaine.com/2018/04/07/plastic-bag-bans-meant-to-protect-not-punish/
I am writing to support a ban on plastic shopping bags in Waterville and in response to a column by Dan Libby (“Community Compass: Proposed Waterville bag ban is ‘people control’,” Feb. 28).
Those of us serving on the committee to create an ordinance regarding the use of plastic shopping bags have no desire to punish, shame or otherwise humiliate anyone for any reason. We believe the citizens of Waterville to be intelligent, capable people.
We are a nation of laws. Our democracy depends on our ability to pass legislation that protects people, their property and the environment on which we all depend to stay well, and indeed to stay alive.
In 1962 Rachel Carson warned the world of the dangers posed by the insecticide DDT. By 1972 the EPA stopped its use. No one today pines for the good old days when we had DDT. We are all delighted that the salmon are again running in the Kennebec. I can remember when they weren’t. Our once pristine Maine rivers were filthy with pollution. These changes came about because of environmental legislation. In years to come a ban on plastic shopping bags will be viewed in a similar light and we’ll wonder why it took so long. I don’t consider any improvements made to the health of the planet to be an infringement on my civil liberties.
And yes, this is a real issue. Plastic is entering our waterways, going into the ocean and breaking down into micro pieces which are ingested by fish. We then consume the fish. This is just one of the threats posed by plastic shopping bags. To learn more go to bringyourownbag.com.
It is my sincere wish that anyone interested in this project look at our website and contacts us with any suggestions or ideas. Thank you.
March 7, 2018: https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/03/07/column-behind-on-plastic-bag-facts/
Column behind on plastic bag facts
During the Community Notes portion of Waterville City Council meeting on Feb. 6, Todd Martin from Sustain Mid Maine Coalition’s Plastic Bag Committee working on this local ordinance provided an update on our recent decision. After attending the South End Neighborhood Association monthly meeting in January and getting feedback on our campaign from our community, we decided to propose a plastic bag ban for only Waterville businesses with 10,000 square feet or more since most plastic bags come from Waterville grocery stores and big-box stores. This was reported to the council by Martin on Feb. 6. The Waterville City Council can either accept and pass this ordinance or put it on the November ballot to let voters decide.
It costs Waterville businesses money to hand out plastic bags for free at checkout. Hannaford pays $32 for a box of 2,000. That’s 1.6 cents per bag. Imagine how much money Hannaford and other large stores would save if plastic bags were banned. We are encouraging people to bring a reusable shopping bag to the store instead of using plastic bags. However, paper bags will still be available at checkout. Our ordinance does not in any way limit the use of paper bags. In fact, if folks wanted to bring plastic shopping bags to the store from a previous shopping trip, they would be welcome to do that.
I do agree with Libby’s final point — we should actually enforce our litter control laws already in place. Better yet, let’s encourage people not to litter.
Community Compass: Plastic bags should not be a part of Waterville’s future
February 17: www.centralmaine.com/2018/02/17/community-compass-plastic-bags-should-not-be-a-part-of-watervilles-future/
Plastic shopping bags have been ubiquitous in our society since first being introduced in the late 1970s. They are made from fossil fuels, they do not biodegrade, and they pollute our environment. Even worse, only about 5 percent get recycled.
According to the United Nations, the average American uses 300 plastic bags per year. There are about 16,000 residents of Waterville. That means 4,800,000 plastic bags are used in Waterville alone every year. Look at it this way — that’s 72 plastic bags in each of the 66,829 seats at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough. That’s just Waterville, in one year.
That amounts to a lot of waste, and it needs to change.
Plastic bags create many problems for our communities and our environment. When they get in our city sewers, they end up clogging storm drains and putting a strain on our wastewater infrastructure. When plastic bags go in our recycling bins and make it to ecomaine, they clog the equipment that sorts recycling. When plastic bags get in our rivers, lakes, and the ocean, they slowly break in to thousands of small pieces and are ingested by wildlife, threatening their health. Reusable shopping bags are a cheap, readily available alternative.
All told there are about 140 different plastic bag ordinances in state and cities around the United States. A dozen Maine towns have already banned or placed a small five-cent fee on plastic shopping bags to discourage their use. The communities of Bath, York, Freeport, Brunswick, Kennebunk, Saco and Belfast have all banned plastic bags. The communities of Portland, South Portland, Topsham, Cape Elizabeth and Falmouth have all placed a five-cent fee on them to deter their use.
Big cities are acting too. The Boston City Council just overwhelmingly voted to ban plastic bags throughout the city.
Sustain Mid Maine Coalition’s Rethink, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle Team is working on an ordinance to bring forward to the Waterville City Council this spring. The ordinance would do the following:
• Prohibit Waterville businesses with 10,000 square feet or more of retail space from giving out or selling plastic shopping bags at checkout. This does not apply to thin plastic produce, meat, and seafood bags at the grocery stores, dry cleaning bags, or plastic newspaper sleeves.
• Paper bags would still be available at checkout. This will support the forest products industry rather than the oil industry.
• Folks would be encouraged to bring their own reusable shopping bags from home to the store with them.
Now, this is just a starting point, not a final ordinance proposal. We want to hear from you, the residents and business owners of Waterville, to incorporate your feedback into the proposed ordinance before we bring it forward to the City Council.
On Election Day in November, we had a table at the polls in Waterville. We spoke with nearly 1,000 voters and handed out about 300 free reusable shopping bags. The response we got was overwhelmingly positive.
As our city continues to revitalize itself, we need to consider how clean streets, parks, trails, and riversides can contribute to the revitalization. Limiting the use of plastic bags is one way, and I hope we can move this initiative forward in the coming months.
If you would like to join us to help make this happen, the next meeting is Thursday, Feb. 15, at 8:30 a.m. at Waterville City Hall. Also, please also join us Sunday, Feb. 18, at 11 a.m. at the Waterville Congregational Church, 7 Eustis Parkway, for a free screening of the documentary film “Bag It,” which examines the problem of plastic pollution. All are welcome to attend.
Ban plastic bags to beautify Waterville
Almost every day in the summer, I pick up litter on both sides of the Two Cent Bridge. This bridge is quite a tourist attraction and may be Waterville’s biggest draw. It’s a beautiful area that people enjoy photographing and viewing wildlife. Older people bring their grandchildren to walk across the bridge.
The litter and trash is unsightly. Once I even found a half-full bottle of rum. Each time I do this cleanup, I find so many plastic bags along the shore or by the clock or in the nearby field. I don’t understand why people don’t throw these plastic bags in trash cans. Instead they throw them along the river bank, which means they end up in the river. This isn’t good for the ducks and other river animals.
In fact, I don’t understand why people need to take a plastic shopping bag for every purchase. I saw some guy who bought only one item accept an offered plastic bag. Ridiculous.
The only way to stop this pollution is to ban plastic bags. As an animal lover and a concerned citizen, I support the group working on a plastic bag ban for Waterville.
December 21: http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/21/we-dont-need-any-more-plastic-bags/
We don’t need any more plastic bags
Plastic shopping bags are everywhere in our society. They are made from oil, never degrade, pollute our environment, and are expensive for businesses to give away for free.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the average American uses 150 per year. There are about 16,000 residents of Waterville. That means 2.4 million plastic bags are used in Waterville alone every year. A plastic bag is about a foot across. If you put the 2.4 million plastic bags Waterville uses each year end to end, it would stretch over 8,000 football fields. This needs to change.
Let’s assume that half of these bags come from one of the Hannafords in Waterville. According to the Hannaford in the Elm Plaza, they pay $32 for a box of 2,000 plastic bags, or 1.6 cents per bag. So that means each Hannaford store in Waterville is paying approximately $19,200 every year to hand out free plastic shopping bags. That is nearly $40,000 every year spent by Hannaford in Waterville alone. This needs to change.
That’s why the Sustain Mid Maine Coalition is working on drafting and proposing an ordinance to the Waterville City Council that would do the following:
1. Prohibit the use of plastic shopping bags only at businesses in Waterville where food sales make up 2 percent or more of their total sales — such as grocery stores.
2. Paper bags would still be available free of charge at check out. This will support the forest products industry rather than the oil industry.
3. Encourage folks to bring their own reusable shopping bags from home to the store with them.
A dozen Maine towns have already banned or placed a small fee on plastic shopping bags to discourage their use. Waterville should be next. For more information, go to www.bringyourownbag.info.
Deceber 17: http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/17/time-to-stop-using-harmful-plastic-bags/
Time to stop using harmful plastic bags
Can anyone suggest a good reason that we continue to use single-use plastic shopping bags, other than convenience and habit?
Twelve million barrels of oil are used annually to make these bags. Approximately 2.5 million of these bags are used in Waterville per year; 380 billion in the U.S. Most are discarded — only 5 percent are recycled — and unlike organic waste, they don’t break down, creating environmental hazards and unsightly trash.
We have all used these bags. But can we justify continuing to use them when it is relatively easy to switch to reusable bags?
Since our governor vetoed L.D. 57, which would have promoted the use of reusable bags by encouraging municipal-level regulations, it is now up to municipalities to do this on their own. Cities across the United States have been banning plastic shopping bags, and several Maine cities have done the same. In fact, Boston is on the verge of banning plastic shopping bags.
A dedicated group from the Sustain Mid Maine Coalition is proposing a Waterville ordinance for a partial ban on plastic shopping bags. It would apply to stores, cafes and restaurants where food makes up more than 2 percent of sales. Paper bags would still be used. This is a sensible step to take that will not place undue inconvenience on businesses or citizens.
If you have an interest in seeing this positive action take place, please communicate with your city councilor to voice support.
As I walked in to Thomas College on Election Day, I wondered what kind of reception I would receive when I approached people to sign my petition to ask the Waterville City Council to ban plastic bags in various stores. The positive response was overwhelming. More than 300 Waterville residents signed the petition, which read, “Ban plastic grocery and shopping bags at Waterville businesses where food sales make up 2 percent or more of total sales. This would include grocery stores, convenience stores, cafes, restaurants, bars, and other businesses that primarily sell food. Many businesses won’t be affected. Paper bags would still be available free of charge.”
Our goal is to reduce the amount of plastic grocery bags clogging our storm drains, littering our road sides, and collecting in our oceans. A ban would also reduce the amount of time our public works employees need to spend picking up litter in our public parks. Since plastic bags are not biodegradable, this pollution will remain forever. Although paper bags will still be available, we sincerely hope people will develop the habit of keeping reusable shopping bags in their cars and bringing these into the grocery store.
It was gratifying to know people join me in recognizing the multiple detriments caused by plastic grocery bags. On behalf of Sustain Mid Maine Coalition’s Rethink, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle Team, thank you to those who support us in this endeavor. If you would like to learn more about our campaign, I invite you to attend one of our upcoming educational events. We will be showing the video “Bag It.” Go to sustainmidmainecoalition.org for dates and locations.
Let’s make Waterville the next place added to the list of 12 municipalities who have already adopted either a fee or a ban on plastic grocery bags.
November 9th, 2017 : http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/11/08/waterville-council-approves-renewal-of-dispatch-services-to-area-towns-at-3-percent-increase/….. Ward 6 resident Todd Martin presented an argument for discontinuing the use of most plastic shopping bags in the city and said he and others plan to get feedback from the community and propose an ordinance to the council early next year. Martin described his efforts at cleaning up litter from Veterans Memorial Park and Head of Falls, where he said he found many such bags in trees, around roots of trees and some mowed over and shredded. He said such plastic at Head of Falls probably would end up in the Kennebec River and the ocean.
“Clean cities attract more people than dirty cities, and we need to be serious about this,” Martin said.
October 31, 2017: http://www.wabi.tv/content/news/Waterville-Volunteers-Help-Clean-Up-Litter-Along-North-Street-454337603.html
Waterville Volunteers Clean Up Litter Along North Street
WATERVILLE, Maine (WABI) Volunteers in Waterville helped clean up parks, playgrounds, trails and sidewalks along North Street on Tuesday.
The Sustain Mid-Maine Coalition and the Natural Resources Council of Maine teamed up to host the community litter clean up day.
It’s part of a local push for a city ordinance to reduce plastic pollution in Waterville.
They hope to base the ordinance off what other Maine cities have already adopted- possibly adding a fee for single-use bags in grocery stores.
“The Sustain Mid-Maine Coalition purchased a ton of reusable bags. We’re going to give these away for free at the polls in Waterville on Election Day, which is next Tuesday. So if you need a reusable bag, you can get one for free at the polls,” said Todd Martin, Waterville resident, NRCM.
Business owners and residents are invited to the Sustain Mid-Maine Coalition’s next meeting to discuss single-use plastic bags at City Hall on Monday, November 13th.
October 29th, 2017: http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/10/29/waterville-group-to-propose-ban-on-single-use-plastic-bags/
Waterville group to propose ban on single-use plastic bags
WATERVILLE — After a few months of deliberation, a group looking to recommend regulations on single-use plastic bags is prepared to move forward with a proposed ban on the bags for a number of the city’s stores.
Leading the effort to regulate bags are members of the Sustain Mid Maine Coalition, who have been meeting monthly since the summer. Linda Woods, coordinator of the organization, on Thursday said the group has come to the determination than an outright ban on single-use plastic bags at businesses that get 2 percent or more of their income from food sales, rather than a fee on the bags like other cities have taken, would be the best course of action, since they are primarily concerned with the environment.
Letter To The Editor – September 9th, 2017 – www.centralmaine.com/2017/09/07/math-shows-bag-fee-worth-trying-out/
Math shows bag fee worth trying out
As a regular Hannaford customer, I’d like to offer some simple numbers to the controversy surrounding the proposal to charge a few cents for each bag now given free.
Hannaford pays $32 for a box of 2,000 plastic bags, or 1.6 cents each. Business people know there are also costs for shipping and handling, plus the cost for the cashier to ring up the number of bags, often only after bagging is complete. Let’s say 3 cents per bag is a fair estimate.
A reusable bag costs $1.50. I’ve had mine for well over a year. It seems to hold twice what a plastic bag holds, so doing the arithmetic, I find the break-even point is around 25 uses ($1.50 divided by two, divided by 3 cents per plastic bag).
Of course individuals have different needs. Mine include using plastic bags to keep bread and cheese fresh, to clean up after my dog, to bag that chicken carcass I don’t want to put in the compost, to make crushed glass or clean the swarf out of our glass machinery (we’re fused glass artists), to hold fireplace ashes, and so forth. But a box of four-gallon garbage bags are 30 for $2.42 with tax, or 8 cents per bag.
The solution is to buy two or three reusable bags, plus pay three cents for the occasional bag I need. That’s $4.50 a year for the reusables, plus another $3.12 per year for two plastic bags per week, totaling $7.62 a year, a tiny cost for being a responsible consumer on an increasingly overpopulated planet.
And let Hannaford keep the money, not Waterville. It’s not a tax, just the cost of doing business. Anyone who remembers Maine’s roadsides before the 1976 bottle bill knows it will work.
August 15, 2017 – http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/08/15/waterville-group-eyes-portland-blueprint-to-propose-fee-on-plastic-paper-bags/
Waterville group eyes Portland blueprint to propose fee on plastic, paper bags
The Sustain Mid Maine Coalition is eyeing regulations for city bags, but Mayor Nick Isgro says he’s not in favor of fees and calls it ‘an incredibly controversial issue.’
WATERVILLE — A group planning to recommend city regulations on single-use shopping bags in Waterville may look to mirror the efforts of Portland, where an ordinance puts a 5-cent fee on plastic and paper bags in stores that sell a certain amount of food items.
The Sustain Mid Maine Coalition, the group leading the effort, met for the second time on the issue in City Hall Tuesday afternoon. During the meeting, those in attendance were in favor of trying to model a Waterville ordinance based off the one Portland enacted in 2015, wherein a fee was placed on paper and plastic bags at stores with greater than 2 percent of sales coming from food.
July 25 2017 – http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/07/25/waterville-group-looking-into-regulations-on-single-use-bags/
The Sustain Mid Maine Coalition met for the first time to discuss restrictions on single-use bags, and joining nine other Maine municipalities that regulate the bags.
Waterville might join the ranks of cities and towns across the state placing restrictions on single-use plastic bags.
Stu Silverstein, a member of the city’s solid waste committee, said for years he’s been carrying his own bags to grocery stores, calling it “the right thing to do.” Reusable plastic bags can carry more items, he said, whereas plastic bags from the store can gum up recycling operations when they do make it to a recycling center.
“We can do something about it,” he said.
Ryan Parker, environmental policy outreach coordinator for the Natural Resources Council of Maine, said nine communities around the state have imposed some kind of regulation on bags. Saco is the latest, choosing to ban single-use plastic bags, becoming the fifth community in Maine to do so.
Other municipalities, including Portland and South Portland, have adopted fees for single-use plastic and paper bags. Several have opted for a 5-cent fee on bags. Some impose restrictions on bags where food is sold. For example, Portland’s restrictions apply to stores where more than 2 percent of sales are food sales, while Saco’s restrictions apply to any business that had to file a permit with the city.
Silverstein said he was in favor of a modest fee on single-use bags, as a fee would discourage shoppers from using those bags. Single-use bags often are considered to be the plastic shopping bags from grocery stores. While the group largely agreed a fee would be preferred over an outright ban on plastic bags, they were not sure if paper bags should be included as well.
Single-use plastic bags are cited frequently as environmental hazards that find their way into waterways and harm animal life or end up as litter in trees and on city streets. Silverstein said the plastic bags are not biodegradable, and while he wanted to take action, he didn’t want to impose a ban on residents.
“We should leave people with a choice,” he said.
Woods said the committee has yet to form an official opinion on whether to try for a ban or a fee.
Parker, who was invited to speak to the coalition, said the committee will need to figure out what the scope of its work will be. For example, they’ll need to define what a single-use bag is. Falmouth’s ordinance defines a single-use plastic bag as being 4 millimeters thick and prevents retailers from selling thinner bags as reusable. Portland’s ordinance allows the standard 2.25-millimeter thickness.
Toby Rose, store manager at Save-A-Lot on The Concourse, said his store already has a 3-cent fee on single-use bags. Since customers have to buy bags at the store, he’s noticed they are more inclined to buy bags that can be reused rather than the single-use ones.
“People would rather bring bags than pay 3 cents,” Rose said.
Parker said the 3-cent fee can deter use of single-use bags. When Rose mentioned he was curious about a fee on paper bags as well as plastic, Parker said he prefers not to make customers choose one bag over the other. Instead, the approach should be to encourage customers to get reusable bags.
“The simpler the better,” he said.
Once a community does impose some kind of restriction, Parker said, the measures tend to spread to neighboring communities. Committee members said they hoped that would happen in the Waterville area, noting that Waterville could use the lessons learned in places such as Portland.
“We have the Portland ordinance already written,” Silverstein said. “It’s right there in front of us.”
The committee is scheduled to meet again Aug. 15. Woods asked the group between now and then to look at different ordinances to discuss positives and negatives, but to focus on the Portland ordinance. After that, they’ll refine what they want a Waterville ordinance to look like.
Parker advised the group to look at what worked in other communities to see what might pass in Waterville.
City Council Chairman Steve Soule invited the committee members to come before the council to let it know they’re working on the bag issue. He also said they should look into conducting a survey of residents.
Parker said members should start talking to local businesses to see how an ordinance might affect them and their businesses, but committee members seemed more inclined to wait until they had a draft of the ordinance ready.
While there is no timeline set going forward, Parker warned the committee that it probably will take longer than they expect to develop a finished ordinance.
November 28, 2016 – http://www.centralmaine.com/2016/11/28/waterville-residents-may-no-longer-put-plastic-retail-and-grocery-bags-in-curbside-recycling-bins/
Waterville residents may no longer put plastic retail and grocery bags in curbside recycling bins
Ecomaine has stopped accepting the bags because they clog up its sorting machines and is encouraging city residents to use reusable bags.
By Amy Calder
WATERVILLE — City residents are now being asked to stop using plastic retail and grocery bags for recyclables that are picked up in curbside bins, a move that the company disposing of the materials says will help its operations.
Ecomaine says it will no longer accept the bags because the items clog up the sorting machines at ecomaine’s recycling facility in Portland, forcing workers to stop the process several times a day to unclog them. Also, the market for selling the bags is very weak and ecomaine wants to encourage people to avoid using plastic bags and instead use reusable bags, according to Lisa Wolff, ecomaine’s communications manager.
“It’s been that way for quite a long time,” Wolff said Monday of the clogging problem, “but unfortunately, there’s just more and more plastic bag usage and more and more clogging.”
Ecomaine had been accepting the plastic bags with the numbers 2 and 4 on the bottom — primarily grocery and retail plastic bags — but people also were putting wood pellet and feed bags that have those numbers on them into their recyclables and such bags are not recoverable, Wolff said.
Many supermarkets and other stores will accept plastic retail and grocery bags at recycling stations, according to both Wolff and Mark Turner, Waterville public works director. Turner said he recycles all his retail and grocery bags at Hannaford at Elm Plaza, for instance.
“I bring mine to Hannaford every weekend. They have a big bucket to the left as you come in,” Turner said. “I just called Shaw’s supermarket a little while ago, and they also take the bags.”
A list of stores that will accept plastic bags and plastic films is available at www.plasticfilmrecycling.org, Wolff and Turner said.
A press release from ecomaine says the decision to stop accepting plastic bags comes on the heels of communities, including Portland, South Portland and Falmouth, instituting fees of 5 cents per plastic grocery bag. Freeport recently placed a ban on plastic bags in grocery and convenience stores and instituted a 5-cent fee for paper bags, the release says. “These ordinances aim to reduce waste and incentivize shoppers to opt for reusable bags, thus reducing fossil fuel and natural resource consumption and our overall carbon footprint.”
Turner also urges Waterville residents not to place Styrofoam in their recycling bins, as ecomaine does not accept that material either.
“We want to remind people all Styrofoam containers and packaging is not recyclable, and that’s another item people seem to habitually put right in the recycling,” he said. “They think it’s recyclable, but it’s not.”
Removing plastic retail and grocery bags from the recycling stream will have a minor effect on the overall tonnage because they are so lightweight, according to Turner.
The city sends its trash to the Oakland transfer station, where it is then taken to Penobscot Energy Recovery Co. in Orrington. But in 2018, the city will start sending its trash to Waste Management Co. in Norridgewock.
The city pays Sullivan’s Disposal of Thorndike $72,000 a year to pick up single-sort recyclables at homes in Waterville. On June 30, 2017, the three-year agreement with Sullivans’s will expire and the city will solicit bids to continue the service, according to Turner. Single-sort means people throw all recyclables, including plastic, glass and paper, in one bin, and it is sorted by machine at ecomaine.
The city’s three-year agreement with ecomaine also expires June 30, Turner said.
“We have a chance to renew that agreement for another five years, I think, and it’s a zero revenue agreement,” he said. “We don’t pay for disposal, but we don’t get a share of profit on recyclables. It’s (the agreement) automatically renewed upon our notification.”
With the city’s pay-as-you-throw program, which will have been in existence three years next summer, the city’s cost for trash disposal went from $350,000 annually to $130,000, which represents a 60 percent savings, according to Turner.
“We know the program is popular. We know the residents want it to continue,” he said. “We’ve had good participation rates with everybody.”
As part of the program, residents buy special purple bags for their trash, which they place at the curb separately from recyclables. When pay-as-you throw started, some people opted instead to have private trash pickup and the city’s trash tonnage was reduced because of that, as well as because some people who brought trash in from out of the city apparently stopped bringing it in, according to Turner. The daily tonnage before pay-as-you-throw was 16-18 tons a day and now the city disposes of 6-7 tons, he said.
The city also pays Shredding on Site on Armory Road $14,400 annually to accept sorted recyclables, primarily from retail businesses. Residents also may take recyclables to that site.
Meanwhile, the city’s Municipal Solid Waste Committee, which met about every two weeks for a while and stopped meeting in the summer and fall, will start meeting again as budget season arrives, according to Turner. The committee, which discusses ideas for solid waste disposal and related issues, is made up of current and former city councilors as well as Turner, residents Todd Martin and Stu Silverstein, City Manager Michael Roy and City Clerk Patti Dubois. The committee sometimes meets with officials from the towns of Oakland, Winslow and Vassalboro, as well as with the Municipal Review Committee, whose members include local councilors and town managers, Turner said.
“It sometimes blossoms into a large regional group,” he said.