WATERVILLE — The city is preparing to become one of the latest communities in Maine to adopt restrictions on single-use plastic shopping bags, a move advocates say will reduce plastic waste though it may be hard at first for some shoppers.

“People are creatures of habit,” said Linda Woods, coordinator for the Sustain Mid-Maine Coalition, which lobbied the city to bring a referendum before voters on the bag ban. “We do things that make sense to us in a certain format. Asking people to remember to bring their reusable bags will probably be a challenge we’re going to have to get accustomed to. Of course, you can get a paper bag, but we would like to see more people using reusable bags.”

The ban, approved by residents Tuesday in a vote of 3,052- 2,906, is scheduled to go into effect April 22, which is Earth Day. It will make Waterville one of 19 communities in Maine that have bans, fees or restrictions on plastic bags, according to the Natural Resources Council of Maine.

There’s still the possibility the vote on Waterville’s ordinance could be challenged by a recount, but City Clerk Patti Dubois said Friday nothing official has been filed with the city yet.

Mayor Nick Isgro, a vocal opponent of the ban, indicated Wednesday the vote would be challenged and Dubois said he has contacted City Hall about initiating a recount.

In order for that to happen, 100 signatures of registered voters would need to be handed in expressing support for the recount, Dubois said.

She said the request would need to be made by Friday.

Woods said Friday any talk of a recount is “only rumors,” and her group is focused on preparing for the ban.

That will include the distribution of 500 free reusable shopping bags at the Waterville Food Bank, and possibly other locations, over the next six months. The money for the bags is being donated by Woods and her husband, Harry Vayo.

“It’s a way of helping people we assume may find it financially challenging to get reusable bags,” Woods said.

Enforcement of the ban will be up to city code enforcement. A message left at the code enforcement office Friday was not returned, but officials in other cities that have enacted or are preparing to enact similar ordinances said they’ve had few problems to date.

“There were a couple folks that were confused and a little concerned about what it meant, but overall we didn’t get much pushback,” said Linda Smith, economic development director for the town of Brunswick, which implemented a ban on single-use plastic bags in September 2017.

The town has a Recycling and Sustainability Committee that helped make reusable bags available for a period of time around the start of the ban and has also assisted the town manager in monitoring any problems, Smith said.

She said the key to a successful transition was getting out ahead of the implementation through community outreach and publicity.

“We haven’t had complaints,” Smith said. “Often times, if people are feeling positive, we don’t hear from them. There was a fair amount of discussion in the community before this passed and checking in with companies. I think the up-front effort meant when it was implemented there weren’t a lot of complaints. People have just made it a part of their day-to-day experience.”

In June, voters in Manchester also passed a ban on plastic bags at retail stores, which will go into effect in January. The town recently sent letters out to businesses to remind them of the change, said Town Manager E. Patrick Gilbert.

“They’re prepared for it,” Gilbert said. “Surprisingly, a number of local businesses were already looking at alternatives to plastic on their own. For the most part, I would say we didn’t get a lot of pushback. Everyone is kind of headed in that direction anyway.”

In Waterville, the ban will affect retail or commercial spaces of 10,000 square feet or more, including places like Hannaford and Shaw’s supermarkets, Walmart and Home Depot. The stores cannot distribute carryout plastic shopping bags at “points of departure” such as check out counters or charge a fee for the bags, though they can distribute paper bags.

Teresa Edington, a spokeswoman for Shaw’s, said in an email the chain is already encouraging customers to shop with reusable bags.

“To reduce the use of plastic and paper bags, we continually encourage our customers to bring in reusable bags for their shopping orders,” Edington said. “We also have available at our stores other shopping bag alternatives that further promotes the use of reusable bags.

Greg Oullette bags his own groceries with a plastic bag after shopping at Save-A-Lot in Waterville on Aug. 15, 2018. Staff file photo by Michael G. Seamans

“In addition, we will continue to comply with all local ordinances regarding the use of plastic bags.”

The Sustain Mid-Maine Coalition has estimated residents in the city of Waterville use a total of about 4.8 million plastic bags each year.

Ecomaine, the company that handles curbside recycling for Waterville, said in 2016 it would stop accepting plastic bags because they clog sorting machines and the market for selling the bags is weak. Officials at the time said, however, the bags could be recycled at supermarkets and other stores.

However, many of them end up in the city’s waste stream and wind up being transported to the Crossroads Landfill in Norridgewock, Woods said.

“If we can keep 4.8 million bags out of the Norridgewock landfill, that’s a plus,” Woods said. “We want to keep them out of the landfill and the beautiful RiverWalk we just dedicated. It would be nice if people walking the RiverWalk didn’t get caught up in plastic bags, or even people just walking along the side of the road. I see them all the time.”

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368

[email protected]

Twitter: @rachel_ohm

filed under:

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.


  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.