AUGUSTA — City councilors expressed more interest in requiring a per-bag fee to use plastic shopping bags, rather than banning them, Thursday.

Ward 1 Councilor Linda Conti proposed banning plastic shopping bags in Augusta to reduce the amount of plastic being thrown away because most disposable plastic shopping bags are not recycled.

The reaction of other councilors to the proposal was mixed, with some councilors saying they wouldn’t be in favor of a complete ban but could consider a ban with exceptions. The council didn’t vote on the proposal Thursday, but a majority of councilors appeared to favor, instead of a straight ban, requiring customers to pay a fee, such as 5 cents per bag, to get a bag at retail stores. That, councilors said, could serve as a disincentive to encourage people to bring their own reusable bags to stores, rather than get more new plastic bags and throw them away.

Conti said she would support a proposal to require stores to charge 5 cents a bag to customers for a plastic bag. She said she’d prefer to ban them but would agree to the alternative proposal so the city would take at least some action.

City Manager William Bridgeo said city staff would draft a proposal to require a per bag fee for stores to give customers plastic bags which could be ready for council’s next informational meeting for discussion.

At-Large Councilor Corey Wilson said he couldn’t support a ban but would be okay with charging a fee for bags.

“I’d be in favor of a fee,” Wilson said. “Frankly I just think these plastic bags are nasty, they’re everywhere. Paper bags biodegrade fairly easily. Plastic bags will last 100 years.”

Councilor Eric Lind said any proposal should include exceptions for poor people. He said if there is a ban, nonprofit organizations, such as food banks, should be exempt from the bag ban. He also said if a fee is charged for bags, the city should make bags available, for free, for poor people.

Councilor Kevin Judkins expressed concern government could be going too far in regulating people’s lives if it bans plastic bags. He asked if Styrofoam cups or soft drinks could be banned, too.

Councilor Marci Alexander said she would not support a ban, in part because paper bags, she said, have a larger carbon footprint than plastic bags.

One resident said the proposed ban would be an anti-business action and in infringement on personal liberties.

A growing number of Maine municipalities have banned plastic shopping bags from being used in some or all stores within their borders.

Waterville residents voted in November 2018 on a proposal to ban plastic bags that initially passed by 146 votes but that a controversial recount later determined to have failed by seven votes after a group of Waterville voters challenged 164 ballots, most of which were from Colby College students. A challenge to that result is pending before the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.

In June 2018, Manchester residents voted to ban plastic bags from retail stores. The Manchester ban does not apply to paper bags, reusable bags, produce bags, bags required for products that need special handling, or bags provided by pharmacists to carry prescription drugs. Manchester Conservation Commission Chairman Gary Hinckley said, before residents there approved that town’s ban, he hoped that other area communities follow suit to ban plastic bags, which he said litter roadsides and harm the environment and animals that might eat the plastic.

Other Maine communities with plastic bag bans in place include Bath, Brunswick and Topsham.

Some communities, including Manchester, have banned them from retail stores; while others have banned them from stores larger than a certain size.

Conti said she wanted to explore all options regarding what size or type of stores which could be subject to the proposed plastic bag ban.

Most Maine municipalities which ban single-use plastic bags make violating the ban a $250 fine for a first offense and $500 for a second offense within a year.

Augusta Public Works Director Lesley Jones noted, currently, shoppers can take plastic bags back to the stores where they bought the items that came in them. She said stores are required by law to take the bags back, which she said isn’t popular with some stores because the plastic bags don’t have much value due to the lack of a strong market for recycling plastic.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

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