WATERVILLE — Voters on Tuesday approved a proposal to prohibit larger retail and commercial businesses from dispensing plastic carryout bags in a 3,052-2,906 vote — a difference of 146 votes.
City Clerk Patti Dubois announced the unofficial results at 10:06 p.m. Tuesday at the polls at Thomas College.
The question on the ballot asked if voters wished to enact a proposed ordinance establishing a ban on providing free carryout plastic bags to a customer at the point of departure in any retail or commercial establishment with a retail or commercial space at or exceeding 10,000 square feet.
The City Council on Aug. 6 voted 4-1 to place the proposed plastic bag ordinance on Tuesday’s ballot, with Councilor Sydney Mayhew, R-Ward 4, the lone dissenter. Mayor Nick Isgro vetoed the vote, but councilors voted 5-1 Aug. 21 to override the veto, with Mayhew once again the only dissenter.
At the polls Tuesday at Thomas College, Lisa Mogilka, 25, who is unenrolled, said she voted to support the ban on plastic bags because it would be good for the environment.
“Ninety-nine percent of the time, you get home and throw those bags away and they end up in the ocean,” she said.
Abbie Koschik, 18, a Colby student from New Jersey who also is unenrolled, said she voted to ban the bags.
“I voted ‘yes’ on (banning) the plastic, because I think the environment is really important,” Koschik said.
Mother and son Cathy Herard and Nick Herard had different opinions on the ban, with Cathy Herard voting against it while her son supported the ban.
“I don’t think it’s fair to some people, especially folks who can’t afford it,” said Cathy Herard, 46, a Democrat. “I don’t think it’s fair to charge people for bags. I always shop with my own bags, but I feel I’d hate to see people have to be charged for them.”
Nick Herard, 20, who is unenrolled, said he voted in favor of the ban.
“I think it would be much better for companies to not be making as much plastic,” he said. “I think it’s a lot better for less plastic to be in circulation.”
In his veto statement this past summer, Isgro warned that a referendum for a bag ban would invite special interest groups and dark-money-funded influence peddlers into the city and divide the community further.
“In recent years outside special interest groups, lobbyists, and dark money funded influence peddlers have spent hundreds of millions trying to influence Maine public policy,” Isgro wrote.
The plastic bag ban was initiated by Linda Woods, coordinator of Sustain Mid-Maine Coalition.
The Coalition’s Rethink, Reduce, Reuse Recycle Team organized the Plastic Bag Committee because members are concerned about the proliferation of plastic on roadsides and in waterways, according to Woods. Those who worked on the initiative besides Woods are Todd Martin, Stu Silverstein, Marian Flaherty and Scott McAdoo, of Waterville; Alan Douin and Lassandra Von Appen, of Winslow; and Toby Rose, manager of the Save-A-Lot store on The Concourse.
Sustain Mid-Maine received a New England Grassroots Environment Fund Seed grant after getting permission to put the plastic bag question on the November ballot and used the money to fund mailers urging voters to approve the bag ordinance, according to Woods.
A piece written by Martin that appears on Sustain Mid-Maine’s website says plastic shopping bags are made from oil and natural gas and never degrade.
“There are about 16,000 residents of Waterville,” it says. “That means Waterville residents alone use approximately 2,400,000 plastic bags every year. That does not include residents of other towns who shop in Waterville and use plastic bags. A plastic bag is about a foot across. If you put 2,400,000 plastic bags end to end, it would stretch over 8,000 football fields. This amounts to a lot of waste, waste that can be prevented.”
Sustain Mid-Maine fliers note that Bath, York, Freeport, Brunswick, Kennebunk, Saco, Belfast, Rockland, Blue Hill and Manchester have banned plastic bags. Portland, South Portland, Topsham, Cape Elizabeth and Falmouth have placed a 5-cent fee on plastic shopping bags to discourage their use.