2016-12-23 / Front Page

Cape considers bag ban

By Wm. Duke Harrington
Staff Writer

CAPE ELIZABETH — Following the lead of neighboring cities and towns, Cape Elizabeth may soon force retailers to charge a fee for so-called “single use” shopping bags, in an effort to remove plastic from the waste stream.

A total ban on polystyrene foam food containers also is on the table.

A town council goal for 2016 was to ban plastic shopping bags in town, but a Nov. 4 memo from Cape’s recycling committee says that group instead preferred rules “essentially identical to those enacted in Portland and South Portland.” Both of those communities require that retailers charge at least 5 cents for each bag provided, a fee they retain and may use “for any lawful purpose.”

The Cape version also applies to paper shopping bags, other than produce and pharmacy bags. It also differs from the Portland/South Portland approach in that it does not compel retailers to keep three years of records on its plastic bag disbursement and fee collection. That, the committee agreed, would be “an unnecessary hardship” for businesses. Instead, the ordinance requires retailers to report annually to the town manager the number of plastic and paper shopping bags sold during the year.

The ordinance would apply to any store or farm stand that does at least 2 percent of its gross sales in food items. Retailers who fail to charge for disposable shopping bags, or itemize fees for them no the sales receipt, would be subject to a $250 fine for the first violation, and $500 for each subsequent failure within any one-year period.

Although the council voted unanimously to forward the proposal to its three-person ordinance subcommittee, not everyone was thrilled about the idea.

“We have just a handful of retail establishments,” Councilor Jessica Sullivan said, deeming the draft ordinance “heavy-handed.”

“I’m not enthusiastic even though I appreciate the environmental impact,” Sullivan said.

However, Councilor Sara Lennon, who first proposed the concept as a council goal last year, declared herself excited with the result.

“It’s been incredibly effective (in other towns),” she said. “You shop at Hannaford now and you notice 90 percent of the people walk in with their reusable bags instead of walking out with 15 plastic bags. That just seems like such a win-win to me.”

A separate ordinance banning Styrofoam containers would apply to all retail sale of food items, in addition to prepared meals. The ordinance also would ban both the town and school department from using or contracting with vendors who use polystyrene foam food or beverage containers.

Because that ban also applies to schools, the recycling committee advised “obviously, this will require discussion as to the method of implementation, cost and timing.”

The council vote did not include Caitlin Jordan and Penny Jordan. Both recused themselves from debate and voting on the agenda item because, as proprietors of separate farm stands in town, they would be directly subject to the ordinance, potentially benefitting from the fee to be charged for items now given free to customers as a cost of doing business.

The ordinance subcommittee, chaired by Patricia Grennon, with Katharine Ray and Caitlin Jordan as members, will take up the two draft ordinances at its next meeting, at 1:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 17.

Return to top