2016-03-18 / Community

Town moves toward full ban on plastic bags

By Wm. Duke Harrington Staff Writer

KENNEBUNK — An attempt to discourage the use of plastic shopping bags in Kennebunk has taken a hard turn from the 5-cent fee per bag enacted by some area municipalities to calls for a complete ban.

At their Feb. 9 meeting, board members voted unanimously to refer a proposal submitted by the town’s energy efficiency advisory committee to its own ordinance subcommittee.

Originally modeled on ordinances enacted in Portland and South Portland, which assess a fee for plastic bags, what came out of committee was a proposal to ban so-called single-use plastic bags that have a thickness of less than 3 millimeters and an integral handle. In other words, trash bags, dry-cleaning bags, sandwich bags, and the bags used to wrap newspapers for delivery, among other types, would not be subject to the ban.

“This really goes after the very specific market of plastic bags you usually find at the larger retailers,” Town Manager Barry Tibbetts said at selectmen’s March 8 session.

“The discussion at committee was that people don’t necessarily like paying [the fee] for bags,” Selectman Shiloh Schulte said. “Since the goal was eventually to get those bags out of the environment – out of rivers and out of the waste stream – the most direct way was to just say we’re not using them anymore.”

The new version is based on a similar ban adopted by York, the only other town in Maine to date to enact a full ban on plastic shopping bags.

Schulte said there was discussion at the committee about exempting smaller businesses, but that caveat did not make the final cut.

“We don’t want to look like we’re just targeting Hannaford,” Schulte said.

“I think an exemption for businesses of, say, under 5,000 square feet, is worthy of consideration,” Tibbetts said.

Meanwhile, some selectmen feel the proposal still does not go quite far enough.

“I’m disappointed that we have not touched the Styrofoam containers that are still roaming the countryside,” Selectman Richard Morin said. “I would have loved for this ordinance to have a little more meat.”

Tibbetts said that was debated, but held in reserve for a later time, “to see how this goes first.”

“Bella has a lot of time until she graduates,” Selectman Deborah Beal quipped.

Bella Rossborough, a fifth-grader at Kennebunk’s Sea Road Elementary School, launched the effort to ban plastic bags last year when she raised the issue before selectmen.

“In fourth grade I read a Scholastic news article on how bad plastic is altogether for animals. I wrote a story on it and my teacher helped me make it into a letter and we brought it to selectmen,” Rossborough said in January.

Rossborough read her letter before the Kennebunk Board of Selectmen last June, and, after receiving praise for her initiative, was referred to the town’s energy efficiency advisory committee. She’s attended every single committee since then, in hopes of seeing her idea through to fruition.

“I knew there would be a lot more steps to the process,” Rossborough said. “It was still kind of nerve-wracking [speaking before selectmen] because they’re, like, really important to the town of Kennebunk and I had never done anything like that.”

But whatever butterflies Rossborough may have had at the start, she has since become something of a public policy pro.

“She has not missed a meeting and every time she comes she comes with a new idea or new thing that she did,” said Dennis Anderson, a member of the energy committee. “She’s a very energized young lady and she’s also really energized our committee on this subject.

“She says she’s learned a lot, but our committee has learned a lot from her as well,” Anderson said.

In a survey conducted by Bella and her teacher at Sea Road Elementary School, Jan Gibson – one of the many data points she offered to the committee – 11 stores in Kennebunk use paper bags, seven give plastic, and five offer both.

Of the stores, 11 support charging a fee when they give out a plastic bag, six do not, and five declined comment, Rossborough said.

At the March 8 selectmen’s meeting, John Damon, a Summer Street giftshop owner who says he headed up a conservation department in Hawaii, agreed plastic bags are a problem.

“However, we do need the small bags,” he said. “I tried paper bags, because I’m an environmental guy, until I couldn’t justify the cost of it. Let’s keep government out of my shop.”

Selectman Ed Karytko appeared to adopt that view.

“I don’t think anybody in this room recycles more than me,” he said. “So, this isn’t about recycling, it’s a question of how much are we going to control people’s lives.”

The proposed ban will get a second reading at the March 22 selectmen’s meeting, with hopes that if passed there, it will go before voters in June.

Staff Writer Duke Harrington can be reached at news@kennebunkpost.com.

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