Belfast moves to reduce plastic bag waste, considers ordinance language

Wed, 04/05/2017 - 5:00pm

BELFAST – As little as a few months from now,  Belfast shoppers may need to pay for their plastic shopping bags, or rely solely on the reusable kind. Belfast City Councilors, unanimous in their determination to reduce single-use plastic bag waste, are currently exploring both options.

Following initial September 2016 presentations by the local advocacy group Ban the Bag in Belfast, councilors created a draft ordinance that request retailers who occupy more than 10,000 square feet and sell at least two percent in food goods to charge customers five cents per bag.

In Belfast, those companies are Renys and Hannaford.

That ordinance draft has been sent back for revision after claims that the wording is too weak, and does not go far enough.

During the Tuesday, April 4 council meeting, Councilor Mary Mortier sought to add Styrofoam to the clause. Her request was postponed for the time being while members concentrated on whether to keep the focus of bags on the big box stores, open it up to all businesses, charge a fee, or ban all single-use bans outright.

Original single-use plastic bag ordinance, now being revised:


Chapter 14 "Businesses "of the Code of Ordinances, City of Belfast, Maine, is hereby amended to add an additional Article VII and to read as follows:

Section 14-329 to 350 Reserved

Article VII. Limited ban on the use of Plastic Single- Use Carryout Shopping Bags

Section 351. Purpose of the Article

The City Council finds as follows:

(1)          The Council has a duty to protect the natural environment and the health of its citizens and visitors; and

(2)          Plastic Single-use carryout bags have a harsh environmental impact on a local and global scale, including greenhouse gas emissions, litter, harm to wildlife and solid waste generation; and

(3)          It is in the best interest of the citizens of Belfast to reduce the cost of City solid waste disposal and to protect the environment and natural resources by discouraging the distribution and use of disposable, Plastic Single-Use, Carryout shopping Bags and encouraging the use of reusable shopping bags in Stores, as defined in this section; and

(4)          The City through its policies, programs and laws supports efforts to reduce the amount of waste that must be disposed of by supporting the State waste management hierarchy to reduce, reuse, recycle, compost and landfill.

Section 352. Definitions

As used in this Ordinance the following terms have the following meanings:

Plastic Single- Use Carryout Bag means a bag other than a reusable bag, as defined below provided at the check stand, cash register, point or sale or other point of departure for purposes of transporting food and food related merchandise out of the Store. The term Plastic Single- Use Carryout Bag does not include reusable bags, product bags or product bags.

Produce Bag or Product Bag beans any bag without handles used exclusively to carry produce, meats, or other food items of merchandise to the point of sale inside a store or to prevent such items from coming in direct contact with other purchased items.

Reusable bag means a bag that meets all of the following criteria:

(a)    Designed and manufactured to withstand 50 repeated uses over a period of time;

(b)   (b)          Is machine washable or, made from a material that can be cleaned and disinfected regularly;

(c)    (c)           Is at least three mil thick, if made from plastic; and

(d)   (d)          Has the capability of carrying a minimum of 18 pounds.


Store means a food retail establishment with a total square footage in excess of 10,000 or more square feet and which sells at least 2% of its merchandise as food products to the ultimate consumer for direct use or consumption and not for resale.

Section 353. Restrictions on Plastic Single-Use Carryout Bags.

(a)          Except as provided in this Section, no store (as defined above) shall provide a Plastic Single­Use Carryout Bag to a customer at a checkout stand, cash register, point-of-sale or other point of departure for the purpose of transporting food merchandise out of the establishment.

(b)          A Store may make available for sale to a customer a Plastic Single- Use Carryout Bag for a mandatory, uniform charge of five cents ($0.05) per bag.

(c)           All monies collected by a Store for the sale of Plastic Single -Use Carryout Bags under this section may be used by the Store for any lawful purpose.

(d)          All Stores must post signage clearly indicating the per bag charge for Plastic Single- Use Carryout Bags.

(e)          No Store shall rebate or otherwise reimburse a customer any portion of the charge required in subsection (b).

Section 354. Violations and Enforcement

The City Manager or his/her designee(s) shall have the primary responsibility for the enforcement of this Ordinance. If the City Manager or his/her designee(s) determines that a violation of this article has occurred, he/she shall issue a written warning notice to the Store that the violation has occurred and request compliance with this Ordinance. If the Store fails to fix the violation and continues to violate this Ordinance then The City Manager or his/her designee(s) shall issue a second written warning to the Store

Section 355. Permitted bags

Nothing in this Article shall be construed to prohibit customers from using bags of any type that the customer brings into the Store for their own use or from carrying away from the store goods that are not placed in a bag provided by the Store.

Section 354. Effective Date

The provisions of this Ordinance shall become effective on, ____________ _


If single-use plastic grocery bags are still an option, even with a per bag charge of five cents, many individuals may continue to use them. This is a conclusion Councilor John Arrison told members of council after recently visiting a Portland Hannaford Supermarket. The store saw a 40 percent reduction in plastic grocery bag usage after Portland’s April 15, 2015 plastic bag ordinance went into effect, he reported.

Arrison was at the store to research the outcomes of the nickle-per-bag concept Belfast councilors have considered imposing.

According to him, one particular customer spoke of how five cents was still a good deal for a bag that can be reused as a trash basket liner or a dog waste receptacle.

“A 40 percent reduction is still a gigantic amount,” he said.

However, to charge or ban remains the question before the Belfast Council.

“I kind of like the idea of charging, so then people have them,” Councilor Michael Hurley said. “Hopefully we’ll be able to permit some kind of bag.”

According to Arrison, Hannaford gave away reusable bags to its customers for 60 days prior to Portland’s ordinance enactment.

Portland (April 15, 2015) and South Portland (March 1, 2016) Hannaford Supermarkets began charging fees as a result of municipal ordinances, according to Eric Blom, External Communications Manager for Hannaford.

The town of York banned the bags outright in March 2016.

‘We have been, and continue to be, consistent in not taking positions on proposed bag ordinances,” Blom said in an email. “Our view is that this is a community decision, and that we will make it work for our customers should the city/town decide to create an ordinance.”

When asked how long it took for customers to become comfortable with the new ordinances, Blom could not speak for individual communities, but responded in general terms.

“It does take some time to make customers aware of any upcoming change and to put new processes in place, so we do hope that communities consider this when looking at lead time for any such ordinance,” he said. “We put up signage and talk with our customer about changes.”

Councilors will meet again next Tuesday, April 11, for a work session at which Arrison hopes to sample different thicknesses of plastic bag as well as talk with Hannaford representatives.


Reach Sarah Thompson at