CAMDEN — While everyone at the Aug. 21 Camden Select Board meeting agreed that plastic trash in the landscape and in oceans is deplorable, they disagreed on preventative measures. A proposed ban on single use plastic bags in Camden failed to proceed to a public vote when the board voted 3 to 1 against placing it on the November ballot. But the ordinance proponents, headed by members of the Conservation Commission, said the day after the meeting that they will proceed with a petition to get the single use bag ordinance on the November ballot.
Conservation Commission member Molly Mulhern said Aug. 22 that Town Attorney Bill Kelly is review the wording. Petitioners need to gather approximately 285 signatures of registered Camden voters, and return the petition to the town by the Sept. 18 Select Board meeting.
The debate over such a ban reflects varying philosophies of how to deter pollution. The topic has been under discussion since last spring in Camden, and a volunteer subcommittee of the Conservation Commission has been working on a proposed ordinance.
The purpose of the ordinance was worded:
“It is in the best interest of the citizens and visitors of Camden to protect the environment and natural resources of Maine and our Penobscot Bay region by encouraging the use of re-usable bags and discouraging the use of disposable single-use carry out bags. The town through its policies, programs and laws supports efforts to reduce the amount of litter and waste that must be disposed of by supporting the State waste management hierarchy to reduce, reuse, recycle. The intent is also to reduce the environmental impact of the manufacture and transportation of single-use bags.”
Other municipalities in Maine, including Belfast and Rockland, have similar ordinances in place, and some businesses have been phasing out the use of plastic bags. Reny’s, for example, bags merchandise mostly in paper.
On Aug. 21, Camden Select Board Chairman Bob Falciani opened the public hearing to consider the proposed ban by explaining that that ordinance remained under review by Town Attorney Bill Kelly and the board would likely consider it more fully on Sept. 4.
But that did not stop the discourse, and eventual outcome, which resulted in board member Taylor Benzie make a motion to, “deny the ordinance as written in order to provide clarity for a citizen petition to move forward.”
The motion itself was cause for considerable conversation as the board mulled over sending the proposed ordinance to the MidCoast Solid Waste Corporation’s Waste Watch Committee for further consideration.
According to the subcommittee’s chairwoman Stephanie Smith, the goal of the ordinance is to reduce single-use plastic bags in Camden, and that it was crafted after a year of researching other communities around the world.
The proposed ordinance included a 10 cent charge for paper bags, because the subcommittee does not want to increase dependence on paper bags.
“It’s been an interesting time for us to work through this ordinance,” said committee member Molly Mulhern, who wrote an opinion piece, Help make Camden Plastic Free By the Sea, several days prior to the select board meeting explaining the committee’s reasoning. “We changed our minds on what is best for the town.”
Mulhern said the work is to “make habitual change in human behavior,” and removing bags at checkout is best evidence to see such change.
“The only way to make this happen is to make something that is inconvenient,” she said.
Others in the audience spoke in support of the ordinance, including Camden-Rockport Middle School eighth grader Julia Russell, who said the convenience of plastic bags is “not worth the consequences.”
There are 100 million tons of plastic in the oceans, she said as she urged the select board to allow the “vote on November ballot to help save our waters.”
James Bennett, who moved to Camden from Bath, said Bath had a similar debate.
“I think Camden needs to make a strong statement and set direction for the future,” he said. By continuing to allow single-use plastic bags, “we’re really just pushing the problem down the road.... Does anybody really think this problem is going to get any easier? If we don’t force ourselves to make this change, it is not going to happen.”
Bed and breakfast owner Gary Born said he had moved from an area that banned plastic bags, “and nobody died.”
He described how guests at his B&B have left many plastic bags, and noted that banning them, “is the right thing to do.”
Camden resident Perry Gates said the town must be on the cutting edge for the future in order to encourage young people to remain and be part of the community.
Simon Oshea, who works at a local grocery store, and who is a señior at Camden Hills Regional High School, said he sees more than a hundred plastic bags go out the door during a four-hour shift.
“I am voicing support against what I am doing,” he said.
Jim Nelson, Camden resident, said he formerly ran a manufacturing company that used packaging and corrugated box.
“I’m confident that urging you to go forward with this is the right thing to do,” he said.
Another CHRHS senior, Matt Nickerson, spoke in favor of the single-use plastic bag ban. Resident Anita Brosius-Scott asked about plans to ban other plastic containers, and implements, such as plastic knives.
Tom Peaco, who is director of the Penobscot Bay Regional Chamber of Commerce, which includes Camden, Rockland and other area towns, said he was not at the podium to speak in favor of the ordinance nor oppose it. He said he served on the Conservation Commission subcommittee.
“I am grateful to having been part of subcommittee and the process and deliberation has been respectful and cordial,” he said.
He urged the select board to look regionally at ordinance proposal and urged consistency for the sake of residents and businesses.”
Chrissy Adamouwics, representing the Natural Resources Council of Maine, a statewide nonprofit dedicated to environmental protection, said “Camden is part of a larger movement in Maine to reduce plastic use.”
Cindy Lamphrey, a business owner and resident, urged the select board to consider the negative message that a single-use plastic bag ban would send to visitors.
“Think about how our actions impact our visitors,:” she said. “Of course we don’t want plastic particles in ocean but we also have to address the trends of people who come.”
She suggested dropping the idea of a fee on paper bags and asked how the ban would be enforced.
Following citizen thoughts, the board then closed the hearing to talk about the ordinance among members.
Board member Taylor Benzie said he had received emails on the proposed ban and spoke with business owners.
“This is a tough one,” he said. “I do not feel that the plastic bag ordinance is one for us at this time. We do need to do something and have be careful how to do it.”
He said the town should focus more on: “recycling and littering laws that we have in place.”
He told the Conservation Commission subcommittee: “I take this seriously and respect all of you.”
But he disagreed on banning single-use plastic bags, noting that he lived in Los Angeles under such ordinances.
The fees, he said, “didn’t solve the garbage rolling around.”
He said he was: “In favor of coming up with right solution. “I’ll probably get voted out of family for this one.”
Benzie added that Camden needs: “to be focusing on the problem at the core. I don’t think banning plastic bags will do it for us.”
Board member Alison McKellar said the issue has been under discussion for months and years.
“Sometimes the more you learn the less clear the answer becomes,” she said.
McKellar wrote an opinion piece on the issue last spring: In defense of plastic bags.
She said Aug. 21 that the biggest environmental problem that Midcoast Maine contributes to is climate change.
“Our carbon footprint is so much bigger here,’ she said.
She added that Camden has a proper disposal system, with trash going to ecomaine in Scarborough where it is burned and turned to electricity. She also said that on the many roadside cleanups in which she has participated the evident trash is candy wrappers, granola bar wrappers and cigarette butts.
“Plastic bags are a really small part of it,” she said.
McKellar also said that the production of paper bags does not benefit the environment, and she noted the productive uses of plastic bags, such as leaving the library when raining and protecting books with them.
“This is a tough issue,” she said, suggesting that the proposed ordinance be forwarded to the Waste Watch Committee for consideration.
Board member Jenna Lookner said she has: “heard compelling positions on both sides. I will support this tonight. It is an important message to send.”
She said she appreciated all perspectives that were delivered during the hearing.
Board Chairman Falciani said that Camden, “is wonderfully environmentally aware,” and noted many people already recycle and reuse plastic bags. “The issue of plastification of the ocean is huge... however, the plastic bag thing is a relatively small percentage of that problem.”
“How can Camden become a leader?” he said. “Littering is an issue. New Jersey has done proactive things for litter. We have ordinances but we don’t enforce them. I’d love for us to accomplish all of this.”
He reiterated: “Plastic bags use is a small percentage of the problem.”
“I’m very much in favor of doing our job to keep plastic out of oceans,” said Benzie.
Falciani said the biggest contributor of plastic to the oceans are the microfibers washed out of clothes in the washing machines and then flushed into the ocean. He also said that the plastic used in ceramic vehicle brakes washes from the roads in the oceans.
“Think of something more creative than ban on plastic bags,” he said.
McKellar said it is time to do something in Camden and Falciani said: “We cannot let this thing die. This does not mean it’s not an important issue.”
The select board then debated whether it issue a policy statement or something stronger.
“We have a littering ordinance on the books now,” said Benzie. “Let’s enforce it please.”
Benzie then made a motion to deny the proposed ordinance, which was reworded and eventually manifested as a move to deny the ordinance as written in order to provide clarity for a citizen petition to move forward.
The vote was 3 to 1, with Lookner opposing it.
At the same meeting, and immediately following, the board unanimously approved placing on the November ballot an ordinance banning the use of polystyrene containers.
The proposed amendment was edited, however, to change the effective date to April 1, 2019, and to ensure that the ordinance includes a statement that there are alternatives that are reusable, locally recyclable or compostable materials.
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