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Proposed single-use bag fees, ban on polystyrene foam sent back to committee

The ordinance subcommittee of the Town Council will take another looking at developing regulations on single-use bags at Cape Elizabeth retail stores.

The Town Council on Sept. 11, 2017 voted to send proposed revisions to the Health and Sanitation Ordinance back to committee following questions from residents Caitlin Jordan and Penny Jordan, two town councilors who spoke during a public comment period because both were recused from voting. In December 2016, when the proposals were first considered by the council, the five remaining councilors voted to allow their recusal because the proposals affect farm stands.

The proposals are modeled after those in Portland and South Portland and require food retailers to charge 5-cents for paper and plastic single-use, carry-out bags. A related proposal to prohibit use of polystyrene foam was also sent back to committee.

Both proposals were developed and recommended by the Recycling Committee at the request of the council to fulfill a 2016 goal to consider banning all single-use plastic bags in retail establishments.

Like Portland's and South Portland's, the Cape proposal stops short of a ban on bags, but does require the 5-cent charge. Caitlin Jordan, whose family operates a market at Alewive's Brook Farm, had questions about the definitions proposed for a food establishment. Penny Jordan, of Jordan's Farm Stand on Wells Road, asked why the regulations were limited to businesses that sell food.

Kara Lavender Law, chair of the Recycling Committee, said the recommendations were based on existing regulations in South Portland and familiar to Cape residents, but "I think the committee would be perfectly happy for the Town Council to broaden the scope of it."

Many businesses have already discontinued polystyrene because of carcinogens and lasting impact on the environment, said Councilor Patty Grennon, chair of the ordinance committee. In recommending a fee for single-use bags, the committee hopes for the same success other communities have had in reducing waste. "Interestingly enough, one of the statistics (the Recycling Committee) brought forth was that at Hannaford, when they implemented this charge, it precipitated an 80-percent reduction in single-use bags in their food stores," Grennon said. "That's a pretty significant way of motivating people to reduce waste."

Law said reducing plastic bags is even more important now that ecomaine has stopped accepting them for single-sort recycling. The bags get stuck and "gum up" sorting equipment, Law said, but despite education efforts they continue to show up in Cape recycling bins and compactors. "So they continue to be a problem from a public works standpoint and a waste processing standpoint, as well as the environmental concerns," she said.

The ordinance committee will reconsider the draft recommendations at their next meeting, 2 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 19, at Town Hall.