Over the past few weeks, there has been a flurry of misinformation and lies spread about our citizen-led effort to reduce plastic bag pollution in Waterville (“Anger flares over Waterville’s plastic bag ordinance debate,” Aug. 21). Most of these lies and misinformation have come directly from Mayor Nick Isgro, which is disappointing. I am writing to set the record straight so that you have the facts before you vote on Nov. 6.
First, I want to thank the Waterville City Council for voting to override Mayor Isgro’s veto and thereby place our ordinance on the Nov. 6 city ballot as Question 1. By vetoing the measure, the mayor tried to silence Waterville residents by refusing to let them vote. We want everyone in Waterville to have a say. That is why we specifically asked the council to place it on the ballot rather than vote to adopt it.
So why are we trying to reduce plastic bag consumption in Waterville? Each American uses approximately 300 plastic bags per year. There are 16,406 Waterville residents. That means over 4.8 million plastic bags are used by Waterville residents every year. Look at it this way: that’s 72 Waterville plastic bags in every single seat at Gillette Stadium. Many of those plastic bags end up polluting our neighborhood, getting caught in trees and wrapped around fence posts. When they do make it into our purple trash bags, they end up at the landfill in Norridgewock, where it takes 1,000 years for them to break down. It doesn’t need to be this way.
If approved by voters, Question 1 on the city ballot would only ban plastic shopping bags at Waterville businesses that are 10,000 square feet or larger. This includes Hannaford, Shaws, Walmart, Home Depot, and the other largest stores in town. This is where the vast majority of plastic bags come from. We tailored the ordinance to have the largest reduction of plastic bag usage without being a burden to small, locally owned businesses. Plastic shopping bags will still be available at the vast majority of Waterville businesses even if our ordinance passes in November. The ban would not take effect until April 22, 2019 (Earth Day). That is a nearly six month window for businesses to use up their supply of plastic bags.
If passed, the ordinance would not affect thin plastic bags without handles we use at the grocery store to hold meat, produce, and bulk items. Nor would it affect paper bags. Paper bags will still be available at checkout. In fact, you could bring any type of bag with you to the store — reusable, paper, or even a plastic shopping bag. Just bring it with you to the store.
Fifteen towns in Maine have already banned or placed a 5-cent fee on plastic shopping bags to discourage their use. In five of those towns, the ordinance was approved by voters at the polls. As in those towns, our campaign is a citizen-led effort. In the coming months, we will work to educate our neighbors and encourage them to vote yes on Question 1 on the town ballot.
Plastic bags are not recyclable on the curb in Waterville. Our recycling goes to the ecomaine facility in South Portland. When plastic bags end up at their facility, they clog the sorting equipment. Furthermore, there is a very limited market for recycled plastic shopping bags. Most end up in a landfill, where it can take 1,000 years to break down, or burned at an incinerator, putting pollution into our air.
Reusable shopping bags are a simple, affordable, and widely available alternative. Our group has already handed out over 500 free reusable bags to folks in Waterville. Our goal is to hand out 1,000.
I am proud to call Waterville home. By working together we can reduce pollution in our community and create a healthier environment for our children and grandchildren. Please consider this as you head to the polls to vote on Tuesday, Nov. 6, at the Thomas College Field House.
We all have a role to play in Waterville’s future. Thanks for doing your part.
Todd Martin is a resident of Ward 6 in Waterville and a member of the Sustain Mid Maine Reduce, Reuse, Recycling, Rethink team.