YORK, Maine — It looks like the town may be headed toward an outright ban of all plastic bag use at retail stores.
With an eye toward putting a proposal before voters next fall, the Board of Selectmen met this week with business people and members of Bring Your Own Bag York, a group of residents advocating for an ordinance that would reduce plastic bag use.
The group last February proposed that food retailers charge 5 cents for each paper and plastic single-use bag. But selectmen seemed more inclined to support a ban of plastic bags entirely in town.
“Nobody likes change, but the whole history of humanity is endless change,” said Torbert Macdonald at the workshop. He said plastic bags are “the enemy. They’re killing the ocean, and I just can’t stand that. They’re the enemy of life itself.”
Greater York Region Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Holly Roberts told the board that while the chamber has not surveyed all of its York members, “people are looking on it as a positive thing and are mostly on board with doing it.”
Mark Graziano, co-owner of Anthony’s Food Shop on Route 1, said he thinks charging for bags could be cumbersome for retailers.
“I don’t care for the idea of charging. It could be the death of a transaction for us. It doesn’t work for me,” he said. He added he was not necessarily against a ban, “but there are logistics that have to be worked out to make it fair for everyone.”
Victoria Simon of BYOB York said she would encourage businesses to think of reusable bags as a marketing tool, to put the name of the store on it “so when tourists come, it’s good exposure, it gets your name out there.”
Roberts said she could see a group of businesses going in together on reusable bags, that could be available at the Chamber visitors’ center as well.
BYOB member Carol Davis said she just returned from California, which bans all plastic bags. “Having this ban is not making us never go back to California again. I think people will come back to York even if they have to buy a bag until they get used to the idea.”
Macdonald said he would not want to see any charge for paper bags, as initially proposed by BYOB. He said he doesn’t mind if retailers use them instead of plastic, as they are biodegradable. He received support from both Graziano and from Selectman Robert Palmer.
Simon told the board that making paper bags is very “energy intensive,” and greenhouse gases are expended transporting the bags from other places in the country to York. But Selectman Mary Andrews said free use of paper bags and a ban on plastic would at least be a step in the right direction.
“I would go for it in a heartbeat,” said Macdonald.
In the end, Simon said she believed the group would be willing to compromise on paper if plastic was banned.
This issue will be coming before the new Board of Selectmen. Two new board members will be elected next month.
Earlier this month, the city of Portland implemented a five-cent fee on all single-use paper and plastic shopping bags. The town of Freeport has begun discussions of similar restrictions on bags as well, while state lawmakers have introduced several bills considering ways to reduce disposable bag usage.