The City of Bath Solid Waste Advisory Committee has been meeting since January 2017. The committee’s task has been to explore the idea of reducing the usage of single use bags and polystyrene in Bath.
Many other communities in Maine have enacted ordinances to place fees on these bags or ban their distribution completely. Single use bags are those that a consumer would receive at the point of sale at a business. The business could be a grocery store, hardware store, gift shop, or any retail establishment. The bags are intended to be used once and thrown away. They show up as litter in the environment by getting caught in trees, clogging storm drains and waterways, and entangling wildlife. Taxpayer dollars are used to clean up this unsightly litter that does not break down in the environment. Instead the bags are reduced into smaller pieces that are consumed by animals, poisoning them, or building up in rivers and streams as floating debris. Paper bags are thought to be more benign as they do break down in the environment. However it takes more energy, water, and chemicals to manufacture and transport paper bags. And paper bags are not made in Maine anymore. The best solution is for consumers to bring their own reusable bags. The more times a bag is used the greater the positive environmental impact.
Polystyrene is most typically seen as a take-out food container. The material is made from fossil fuels and also does not break down in the environment. It will remain as litter for perhaps hundreds or thousands of years. It is blown by the wind and consumed by wildlife. And there are alternative materials available.
The committee has identified several goals:
The committee is now recommending the City Council adopt two ordinances. The first is a ban on the use of single use plastic bags and a fee on the use of single use paper bags. The fee would start at 5-cents and increase to 15-cents over three years. The goal is to incentivize consumers to use reusable bags. The second ordinance is a ban on the use of polystyrene containers for use in food take-out. There are exceptions for raw seafood and meat. The goal is to incentivize businesses to use more sustainable, recyclable materials for take-out.
The City hosted two public meetings to gather input from the community on these proposed ordinances. The ordinances were brought to the City Council for first passage on October 4. The public hearing (second passage) is set for November 1.