AUGUSTA — A majority of city councilors at Thursday’s meeting said they would not support a proposal to require stores in the city to charge 5 cents per bag for plastic shopping bags.

But Ward 1 Councilor Linda Conti, who asked for the proposal, said she still plans to bring it forward in an effort to reduce the amount of plastic going into the local waste stream. She asked for a formal proposal to be drafted so it could be brought to a council vote.

“Even if everyone is against me, I want to bring it to a vote so it’s on the record,” Conti said, adding that how each councilor votes on the proposal also should be on the record.

Conti said requiring the per-bag fee would be a way to reduce the amount of plastic being thrown away and get people thinking about the waste they put into the environment. She said the rules would include exceptions to address concerns of some about the effect of the fees on poor people, food banks that use the bags, and smaller local stores.

“I think 5 cents is OK for clean water and land,” she said of the fee.

Two councilors, Ward 2 Councilor Kevin Judkins and Ward 3 Councilor Harold Elliott, said whether to use plastic bags is a personal choice and, while both said they prefer not to use them, the government shouldn’t legislate whether others can use them.

“I think it is a person’s responsibility to take care of these plastic bags. There are recycling places for them. Hannaford takes them,” Elliott said. “It’s more than just plastic bags (polluting the environment), and we’re not the only culprits in the world. I don’t want a ban on plastic bags and I don’t want to charge somebody 5 cents for a plastic bag. It’s our responsibility to take of these bags ourselves. We’re adults.”

Ward 4 Councilor Eric Lind and At-large Councilor Mark O’Brien said they weren’t sure how they would vote on it but both indicated, if it moves forward, the issue should be decided by residents in a citywide referendum vote, not by councilors.

At-large Councilor Marci Alexander declined to say how she’d vote on a per-bag fee, saying it already seemed clear there wasn’t enough support on the council for passage anyway. Two other at-large councilors, Corey Wilson and Jennifer Day, were not at Thursday’s meeting.

Mayor David Rollins, who would vote on an ordinance only if there was a tie vote of councilors, said the movement away from single-use plastic bags is growing across the country.

“We’ve all seen the amount of plastic floating in the ocean,” Rollins said. “As I interpret this (pay-per-bag proposal), it’s about bringing your own bag when you shop, so we don’t need to be producing bag after bag after bag.”

No members of the public attended Thursday’s council meeting to speak for or against the plastic bag fee.

Conti said 19 Maine municipalities have banned plastic shopping bags or required fees to be charged by stores.

Officials noted the 5 cents collected for each bag would go to the stores, not the local municipality.

Maine communities with a 5 cent charge per plastic or paper bag include Portland, South Portland and Falmouth. Communities that have banned them include York, where voters approved it in a 2015 referendum; Freeport, where voters approved it in 2016; Saco; and Bath.

Waterville residents voted in November 2018 on a proposal to ban plastic bags that initially passed by 146 votes, but a controversial recount later determined that the measure had 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.

Last June, 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.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

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