PORTLAND, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- Portland has become the first community in Maine to impose a surcharge on disposable bags and one of the first in New England to regulate both bags and polystyrene coffee cups and food containers.
Beginning in April of 2015, customers at grocery stores, convenience stores, and farmers's markets will have to pay 5 cents for every paper or plastic bag they use to carry home their purchases. Right now the stores include that cost in their prices and give out bags for free. Under this new ordinance, the stores will keep the 5 cents, but the state will tax the sale of the bags. The new mandate will not apply to department stores, restaurants or dry cleaners.
This proposal to make this "green" push has been crafted and re-drafted for years. While the council voted 6-3 to pass the final revision, many councilors said they still don't really like it. Some said that all stores should have to abide by the new rules, not just a selected few. Many also took issue with putting a surcharge on paper bags, since they are recyclable and bio-degradable. But several councilors said the bottom line for them is that this new law will help change people's behavior, meaning they will start using reusable bags, and that it will cut down on trash.
The Maine Grocer's and Food Producers Association had been actively fighting this proposal. After the vote, representatives said they were disappointed that the city enacted the fee and ban without first focusing on more effective recycling efforts.
The public hearing went late into the night. So many people came to speak before the council that there was no room in the council chambers.
People who are concerned about the environment think this is a great way to get people to move to reusable grocery bags, to reduce the number of plastic bags that wind up in storm drains or in Casco Bay, killing wildlife and leaching chemicals.
But equally concerned business owners worry about the customers will do their grocery shopping in the suburbs and not within the city limits. Business owners also said that tourists will grumble and people using EBT won't be able to come up with the extra change. The bag fee and the state tax on the bag fee will not be covered by their benefits.