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.
“We did a lot of research, a lot of thinking and discussing,” Woods said of the group’s decision.
The group decided not to include paper bags in their proposal, and Woods said that was based on the thinking that the community may not be ready for both. And since the goal was to reduce waste in the environment, she said the group ultimately came down on just plastic for the time being. They have not drafted an ordinance yet, but will plan to go to the City Council after the upcoming November election.
Initially, the group had been discussing possibly placing a fee on the bags. Many towns and cities in the state have begun placing such fees on the bags, usually 5 cents a bag, with Portland leading the way in 2015.
In their August meeting, the group had indicated they wanted to use the Portland plan as a blueprint for their own eventual regulation. Portland placed a fee on both plastic and paper bags in stores with 2 percent or more of their business coming from food. Woods said the Waterville proposal would exclude meat and produce bags at grocery stores and would also exclude restaurants.Advertisement
Woods said the decision to go with a ban instead of a fee came down to not wanting people to view the fee as another tax, especially considering they believe city residents to be over-taxed as it is.
“An outright ban would be better for the environment in the long run,” Woods said.
She said the group went back and forth on a ban versus a fee, but ultimately “came down solidly” on a ban. She said the group wants to see an ordinance passed, which is why they are limiting their recommendations to just banning single-use plastic bags at certain stores.
“We didn’t think the community was ready for both,” she said of regulations on paper and plastic bags.
However, the group may face an uphill battle with the city.
Waterville Mayor Nick Isgro, who previously said he was not in favor of placing a fee on single-use bags, said he has met with Woods and other members of the group. He said his understanding was that the group recognizes they have a lot of work ahead of them in order to gain public support ahead of going to the City Council. While potential regulation on bags would be “controversial,” he said he knows the group will launch its own public support campaignAdvertisement
“Because this is getting into private industry, I was honest with them that I have hesitancy to support regulation,” Isgro said, adding he did not think it was a municipal government’s job to impose regulation.
However, he said as mayor, he recognizes it is his job to see what the public thinks and not impose his own opinions on the matter.
“I personally wouldn’t support it,” he said, “but I think they have a lot of work to get public support to make it a viable option.”
City Council Chairman Steve Soule said Sustain Mid-Maine needs to go out into the community to see what residents think of possible regulations and what they would find acceptable. He said the group would need to do that before coming to the council for a decision.
“Personally I wouldn’t mind if plastic bags were eliminated as long as paper was still an option,” he said.
Councilor Nick Champagne said he was not in favor of a potential fee on single-use bags, as it would have been an added tax on residents who were heavily taxed enough as it is. He said he was willing to hear other options to reduce plastic bags outside of charging. An outright ban would be even stricter than a fee, he said, but was willing to hear all options, calling the plastic bags nuisances that cause major solid waste concerns.
A ban would also affect people with low or fixed incomes who couldn’t afford the reusable bags, he said, and would place a heavier burden on the need for paper bags.
“There’s just a whole slew of things we’d have to discuss,” said Champagne, who is a member of the city’s Solid Waste Committee.
In the meantime and ahead of meeting with the City Council, the group has a few events planned to raise awareness of the need for regulation. On Halloween this coming Tuesday, the group will host a community cleanup event at the North Street playground near the Messalonskee stream from noon to 4 p.m. The group will meet at the entrance of the Alfond Youth Center and will provide protective gloves and trash bags for volunteers. Woods said this is the kickoff for their campaign to ban single-use plastic bags, but will also be a fun event for Halloween.
Following the cleanup, Woods said the group will be at the polls on election day, which is Nov. 7, to hand out information on their plan as well as hand out reusable bags. Woods said the group will also begin an educational campaign ahead of drafting an ordinance and meeting with the City Council. The group will also shift its meetings to evenings instead of afternoons to allow for more public participation. The next meeting will be Nov. 13 at 6 p.m. in the Front Street conference room of City Hall.
Woods said the council is aware of the work they are doing, as the group sent a letter outlining their work. She said it made sense to wait until after the election before formally going to the council to allow time for their education campaign. They recognize not everyone understands that “plastic is forever,” so they will work to educate residents on the detriments of plastic.
“It took a while for us to come together as a group,” she said. “Now we’re ready.”
Colin Ellis — 861-9253