Plastic shopping bags have been ubiquitous in our society since first being introduced in the late 1970s. They are made from fossil fuels, they do not biodegrade, and they pollute our environment. Even worse, only about 5 percent get recycled.

According to the United Nations, the average American uses 300 plastic bags per year. There are about 16,000 residents of Waterville. That means 4,800,000 plastic bags are used in Waterville alone every year. Look at it this way — that’s 72 plastic bags in each of the 66,829 seats at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough. That’s just Waterville, in one year.

That amounts to a lot of waste, and it needs to change.

Plastic bags create many problems for our communities and our environment. When they get in our city sewers, they end up clogging storm drains and putting a strain on our wastewater infrastructure. When plastic bags go in our recycling bins and make it to ecomaine, they clog the equipment that sorts recycling. When plastic bags get in our rivers, lakes, and the ocean, they slowly break in to thousands of small pieces and are ingested by wildlife, threatening their health. Reusable shopping bags are a cheap, readily available alternative.

All told there are about 140 different plastic bag ordinances in state and cities around the United States. A dozen Maine towns have already banned or placed a small five-cent fee on plastic shopping bags to discourage their use. The communities of Bath, York, Freeport, Brunswick, Kennebunk, Saco and Belfast have all banned plastic bags. The communities of Portland, South Portland, Topsham, Cape Elizabeth and Falmouth have all placed a five-cent fee on them to deter their use.

Big cities are acting too. The Boston City Council just overwhelmingly voted to ban plastic bags throughout the city.

Sustain Mid Maine Coalition’s Rethink, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle Team is working on an ordinance to bring forward to the Waterville City Council this spring. The ordinance would do the following:

• Prohibit Waterville businesses with 10,000 square feet or more of retail space from giving out or selling plastic shopping bags at checkout. This does not apply to thin plastic produce, meat, and seafood bags at the grocery stores, dry cleaning bags, or plastic newspaper sleeves.

• Paper bags would still be available at checkout. This will support the forest products industry rather than the oil industry.

• Folks would be encouraged to bring their own reusable shopping bags from home to the store with them.

Now, this is just a starting point, not a final ordinance proposal. We want to hear from you, the residents and business owners of Waterville, to incorporate your feedback into the proposed ordinance before we bring it forward to the City Council.

On Election Day in November, we had a table at the polls in Waterville. We spoke with nearly 1,000 voters and handed out about 300 free reusable shopping bags. The response we got was overwhelmingly positive.

As our city continues to revitalize itself, we need to consider how clean streets, parks, trails, and riversides can contribute to the revitalization. Limiting the use of plastic bags is one way, and I hope we can move this initiative forward in the coming months.

If you would like to join us to help make this happen, the next meeting is Thursday, Feb. 15, at 8:30 a.m. at Waterville City Hall. Also, please also join us Sunday, Feb. 18, at 11 a.m. at the Waterville Congregational Church, 7 Eustis Parkway, for a free screening of the documentary film “Bag It,” which examines the problem of plastic pollution. All are welcome to attend.

Todd Martin, of Waterville, is a member of the Sustain Mid Maine Rethink, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle Team. He also works at the Natural Resources Council of Maine in Augusta.

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