BIDDEFORD — Biddeford has became the latest city in York County to attempt to curb recycling contamination by banning plastic bags.

The Biddeford City Council passed the new ordinance, 5-3, with Councilors Marc Lessard, Robert Quattrone and Michael Swanton in opposition.

The city joins neighboring communities Saco and Kennebunk that already have a similar rule in effect.

The ordinance banning single-use, carryout plastic bags was approved Tuesday and will take effect July 15. This will allow time for grocery and convenience stores, markets, pharmacies, restaurants, takeout food, temporary and seasonal businesses, and other merchant retailers in the city to deplete their existing inventory of plastic bags.

Banning plastic bags, Solid Waste Management Commission member Bernard Neveux said, has been discussed in Biddeford at least since 2013, when the city instituted curbside recycling pickup.

“The purpose of the ordinance,” he said, “is to remove plastics from the waste stream, … as it contaminates solid waste and recycling.”

“Many people think that they should bag their recyclables before putting them in the recycling bin, but plastic bags are actually not accepted in the curbside recycling program,” said Public Works Director Jeff Demers. “The bags interfere with the sorting process at the recycling facility.”

The council approved the ban due to both the environmental impacts of single-use plastic bags and recent recycling contamination issues that the city has been facing, according to a city press release.

“The Public Works Department’s educational efforts have cut recycling contamination rates from 40 percent to 18 percent since July 2018, but plastic bags remain a problem,” the release said. “The Public Works Department is working to reduce the contamination rate to about 8 percent throughout the coming months.”

Plastic bags “are the biggest source of recycling contamination in our community,” Demers said.

With recycling markets changing internationally, the city may be charged fees if recycling contamination issues continue, he said.

“Plastic bags are convenient, but with the costly issues that they create within our recycling program, and the increasing evidence of environmental damage from plastics in all areas of our environment, it is appropriate and important that we adjust our lives and our habits to not only save tax dollars, but do what is right,” Mayor Alan Casavant said.

Recycling contamination is a national issue.

The major outlet for the country’s recyclable material has been China, Demers said. But on Jan. 1, 2018, that country put in place its National Sword policy that instituted stricter guidelines for the type of material it accepts. Because China stopped accepting many forms of recyclable material, from plastics to unsorted paper, instead of getting paid for recyclables, it now costs the city money to get rid of this material, Demers said.

Based on the experiences of other communities, he said, he doesn’t believe residents will object to the plastic bag ban.

“I was asked by the Policy Committee to reach out to other communities and find out if there was any pushback,” Demers said. After contacting officials in Portland, South Portland and Saco, he said he found there was no major resistance from shoppers there.

The city has recently taken other steps to reduce recycling contamination.

On March 5, the City Council voted that grandfathered facilities – multi-family residences of six or more units and other properties that would require commercial pickup of recycling if not for their grandfathered status – must file a recycling plan with the city, as well as the facility’s owner, and contact information. The plan is to include a “procedure to ensure only acceptable recycling materials are placed in the recycling container for curbside collection,” according to the ordinance amendment.

The city’s Public Works Department conducted studies and learned that grandfathered facilities were the biggest culprits of contaminated recycling. It examined material deposited in recycling receptacles from the 54 multi-family properties that use the city’s curbside recycling pickup program, and found that between 30 and 35 percent of that product was contaminated, Demers said in December.

Under the plastic bag ban ordinance the Code Enforcement Office will enforce the ordinance, and fines for violations would be $250 for the first violation in a one-year period and up to $500 for subsequent violations within a year.

Stores may still choose to provide paper bags to customers for free or for a fee, according to the city. Grocery stores in Saco provide free paper bags to customers who don’t bring their own bags. Clean paper bags are accepted in the city’s curbside recycling program. Grocery stores in Biddeford can provide plastic bags without handles that are used for produce or meat, but those bags are prohibited in the city’s blue single-sort recycling bins.

Dina Mendros can be contacted at 780-9014 or at:
[email protected]

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