BANGOR, Maine — Bangor officials are looking into whether the city should ban or charge a fee for plastic shopping bags.
Jay Dresser, a Bangor resident and past member of the city’s recycling committee, brought the proposal to the city’s Infrastructure Committee on Monday evening. He wants Bangor to ban the sale and distribution of plastic shopping bags and polystyrene (Styrofoam) containers.
Several Maine communities, mostly in the southern part of the state, have instituted fees or bans on plastic bags in recent years. In June, Freeport voters approved a townwide ban on disposable plastic shopping bags, but the change doesn’t take effect until September. They joined York, the first Maine community to pass such a ban, which took effect in March.
Many of these ordinances also include the ban on polystyrene containers. Brunswick passed a ban on Styrofoam food containers in March. That ordinance takes effect in October. Freeport and Portland’s ordinances also include polystyrene containers.
More communities have established fees on plastic bags in hopes of swaying people to either use paper or bring their own reusable canvas or cotton bags from home.
Leaders in Portland, South Portland and Falmouth have all voted to establish a five-cent fee for every plastic bag consumers decide to take home from the store. Topsham also is considering a fee, according to The Forecaster.
“It’s been going quite well,” said Troy Moon, Portland’s sustainability coordinator, during a phone interview Wednesday. “[Since the fee implementation] I’ve noticed a change of behavior, where the majority of shoppers are bringing their own bags.”
In addition, clerks are now asking shoppers if they want bags for five cents, meaning shoppers leaving the store with just a couple items often don’t bother with a bag at all, Moon said. In Portland, the five-cent fee stays with the store that gives out the bag.
“It’s really not a revenue stream,” Moon said, adding that the idea is to get people to think about bringing their own bags, not to raise funds.
Anecdotally, grocery stores and other retailers have reported sending far less plastic out the doors with their customers since establishing the fee.
Bangor city staff plan to reach out to communities that have instituted bans or fees to see how they have been received and what effects the changes have had. Most of these programs are still young.
“I think it’s a commendable idea,” said Bangor Councilor Gibran Graham. The councilors as a group wanted to learn more from other communities that have taken these steps before moving further.
After getting feedback, the city could craft an ordinance for consideration by the City Council, or the decision could be made by voters at referendum, which is how some communities have approached the decision.
Dresser argued that in its role as the “gateway” to Acadia National Park and the north woods, Bangor should take a strong lead in the effort to reduce the use of these environmentally harmful products. Plastic bags and polystyrene containers never break down and are created using a limited, nonrenewable resource — petroleum.
Dresser suggested the ordinance could include language requiring retailers larger than 10,000 square feet to make reusable bags available to customers. He also recommended a yearlong phase-in of the ordinance to allow time for public education and to give businesses a chance to prepare for the change.
Dresser also wants Brewer to consider a separate ordinance, but Brewer City Manager Steve Bost said in an email Wednesday that “we would not have any interest in his proposal.”
Follow Nick McCrea on Twitter at @nmccrea213.