BATH — The city will soon have a brand new bag.

Free, reusable “Bath Bags” will debut in the coming weeks as the city prepares for an impending ban on the distribution of disposable plastic shopping bags and polystyrene containers.

The City Council authorized the ban last fall. It takes effect on April 22 – Earth Day – to allow time to spread the word, as well as allowing businesses to use up their supplies of disposable bags.

The policy is intended to clean up the environment by getting rid of bags that clog storm drains, harm wildlife and pollute waterways, and do not biodegrade. Bath is the latest Maine municipality to dump disposable plastic bags, or impose a per-bag fee to discourage their use.

Topsham’s 5-cent fee on single-use shopping bags and ban on the use of polystyrene foam containers took effect last May. Brunswick has also enacted a 5-cent fee on plastic and paper bags; Falmouth has a 5-cent fee on both kinds of bags at stores of more than 10,000 square feet; Freeport has banned plastic bags and has a 5-cent fee on paper; and Portland has a 5-cent fee on both types of bags. Cape Elizabeth last fall approved a 5-cent fee on plastic bags and a ban on foam containers.

The city’s Solid Waste Advisory Committee has been working behind the scenes, trying to come up with a good, effective, education campaign, Bath Public Works Director Lee Leiner said.

Bath plans to spend about $4,000 from City Council contingency funds to buy the Bath Bags, and it wasn’t yet clear how many bags that will buy. The order could be placed later this month, and the bags available in late March or early April.

The committee also plans to put the word out via social media, and to do so with increasing frequency as Earth Day approaches, reminding residents to bring their Bath Bags to the store.

“Just like an annoying commercial, we’re going to try to be out there a lot,” Leiner said.

Bath’s ban covers non-reusable bags distributed at all Bath businesses. Although paper bags would remain available, users will be assessed a charge of 5 cents per bag the first year, 10 cents the second, and 15 cents from the third year forward. Businesses would retain bag revenues.

The escalated fees are meant to wean consumers off store-distributed bags in favor of bringing their own. Businesses can also choose not to offer paper bags.

The ordinance exempts bags without handles used to carry meat, produce, seafood and prescriptions, as well as bags distributed at short-term festivals, fairs and flea markets.

Reusable bags – made for repeated use, and able to be cleaned or disinfected – will be encouraged. If composed of plastic, such bags are to be at least 2.25 mils thick, have handles, and support at least 18 pounds.

Businesses will be able to give away or sell their own bags that meet reusable-bag standards, and “Bath Bags” will be made and distributed as part of the public education process.

Paper bags are considered a substitute for bags made of plastic because they biodegrade in the environment and are made from renewable resources, Leiner has said. However, paper bag manufacturing requires more water and energy, and more fossil fuels are required to transport the heavier containers, according to the committee, which also noted that no paper bags are made in Maine.

The ban on polystyrene foam is aimed at containers typically used for food preparation and sale, with the exception of raw meat and raw and live seafood. Similar to plastic bags, such containers add to litter, do not biodegrade, and require consumption of fossil fuels to make and transport, according to the committee.

Stores could continue to sell polystyrene products like foam cups, but restaurants, for example, will not be allowed to serve prepared coffee in a foam cup.

Alex Lear can be contacted at 781-3661, ext. 113, or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: learics

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