Proposed Rockland bag ordinance combines bans, fees, conservation

Posted:  Tuesday, February 6, 2018 - 11:15am
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ROCKLAND – The downtown merchants who spoke to council on Monday, Feb. 5, don’t object to a proposed single-use plastic bag ban in Rockland. In fact, several of them took steps toward conservation long before the proposed ordinance appeared on this month’s council agenda.

For some of them, the concern is in the logistics. For others, it’s the simultaneous proposed customer fee for single-use paper carriers.

“Mostly I would say I’m in favor of banning plastic bags,” said Sierra Dietz, owner of the Grasshopper Shop in Rockland. “I have just ordered 15,000 plastic bags. I have another five thousand literally on a slow boat from China that will come in the next month or two. That’s probably our supply for the rest of 2018.”

Dietz reminded city council members during the Monday agenda-setting meeting that downtown merchants are not the same as box store retailers. Those bags unused after the ordinance passes cannot simply relocate to another branch.

What do you do with 20,000 bags?

But then again, where does the money come from to pay for paper, which, according to Zander Shaw of Waste Watchers, is costlier to ship than plastic? And, as Rhonda Nordstrom, owner of Rheal, asked, who pockets the five cents that merchants are soon required to charge for each single-use paper carrier?

The answer to the five-cent question, according to council, is the retailer.

“It’s not meant to put undue burden on everyone,” Shaw said.

As Councilor Amelia Magjik said, the ban is meant to introduce a mentality shift, especially when considering plastic bags were once the solution to a movement aimed at conserving trees.

The fee is a deterrent, according to Shaw.

“I know that five cents means a lot to people,” he said. “That’s why we don’t have soda cans and beer cans all over the streets.”

According to Mayor Geiger, the current ordinance for Bath staggers the charge from five cents the first year, 10 cents the second year, 15 cents the third year.

Of the 11 Maine municipalities that have a bag ordinance, Shaw believes that half have some sort of a fee.

“Portland, South Portland, Cape Elizabeth have a fee on all single-use bags. There’s no ban on plastic. It’s just a straight fee on all single-use bags,” he said.

Rockland’s proposed ordinance is written based on Belfast’s plastics ban, and Bath’s fee charge.

Shaw’s definition of a plastic single-use carry-out bag is a plastic bag, other than a reusable bag, provided at the check stand, cash register or point of sale, or other point of departure for purposes of transporting food, food-related merchandise, and all non-food related merchandise out of the store. This does not include produce bags or product bags.

Trash bags are not included in ban.

Loyal Biscuit already sells reusable bags for $5, but provides the customer with a $5 in-store coupon. Fiore uses paper bags manufactured greenly, other stores provide discounts for customers providing their own containers, and many conferences and product fairs give away linen bags.

“We wouldn’t be the first,” Shaw said of the overall ordinance. “It would be a little more progressive, perhaps than some of the other ordinances. But we wouldn’t necessarily be the trailblazers.”

  

Reach Sarah Thompson at news@penbaypilot.com