2014-10-10 / Front Page

Plastic bag survey is prepared for citizens

Residents can weigh in on the subject at Kennebunk Town Hall
By Alex Acquisto
Staff Writer

KENNEBUNK — In lieu of putting a nonbinding question about a local tax on plastic bags on the November ballot, members of the Energy Efficiency Advisory Committee have drafted a survey available to residents in the lobby of town hall.

Members of the committee approached the selectmen earlier in June with a proposed tax very similar to the tax Portland approved in April.

The Portland City Council voted to charge five cents for plastic and paper shopping bags at establishments where food and drink constitute more than 2 percent of total gross sales, and to ban polystyrene containers commonly used at restaurants and gas stations. This tax represents a national effort to transition to more environmentally conscious activities that cut down on the earth’s carbon footprint.

The incentive for a proposed tax on plastic bags in Kennebunk is being to curb use of a material that never fully decomposes, Dennis Andersen, chairman of the Energy Efficiency Committee, said in June.

Andersen proposed only to include a question about a nickel tax for plastic bags, and not tax paper or styrofoam.

A question on the ballot would not have resulted in any immediate action on the part of the town. The board, however, voted down the proposal 6-1 in early July.

Since then, the committee has continued to pursue the issue and, still interested in polling residents on the matter, posed the following:

“Would you be in favor of an ordinance to charge .05 cents for each single-use plastic bag provided by the following retail stores: grocery stores, drug stores, pharmacies, convenience stores, food marts and other entities engaged in the retail sale of a limited line of goods that includes milk, bread, soda and snack foods?”

The survey was made available in early September. In addition to the yes or no question, the committee has established an email address for those who wish to elaborate.

“Right now, it looks as if the voters are split almost 50-50,” said committee member Sue Speers, who also said the consensus would probably be final after the November election.

The tax has become divisive. Those who oppose most often cite either the arbitrariness of the tax or distaste for the overreaching arm of a local government mandate.

“In my opinion, if we want to do this, then we have to ban every plastic bag, all the plastic cups, all the Styrofoam cups — the whole nine yards. For me, it’s all or nothing because you’re putting an undo burden on some of our businesses and some escape just as they are,” said Selectman Al Searles in June. “How is it right for me to come to your store and buy something, and because I didn’t bring my bag, you’re going to punish me? “I’ll tell you, I’m not coming back.”

Those who do support the tax cite environmental reasons.

As Andersen said in June, “They’re (plastic bags) used on average of 12 minutes and they last at least 100 years, some studies say they last 1,000 years.

“Most of the plastic bags end up in landfills. By reducing plastic bags you’re going to reduce your trash. It’s going to help the town by reducing the tipping fees.”

Of the seven residents who sent emails to the Energy Efficiency Committee about the proposed plastic bag tax, sentiments are divided.

“If there is a charge for plastic bags in Kennebunk, I will no longer shop here. This is a really stupid idea. I could take a walk down some of the roads in Kennebunk and look at the trash. Everything but plastic bags,” said one resident.

Another resident, who favors the tax, wrote, “We use reusable bags 99 percent of the time. The plastic bags should have (a) fee on them.”

Said another, “We do not support a town ordinance that would charge a fee for plastic bag use. We recycle them.”

The survey will be open to residents until the end of the month.

Only once the committee tallies votes and considers emails will the next step be decided, Speers said. The earliest date the question can be put to voters is June.

To view the question in electronic form, visit www.kennebunkmaine.us and search plastic bag survey. Residents can email comments to plasticbagsurvey@yahoo.com.

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