WATERVILLE — Starting Sunday, shoppers at large stores in the city will have to bring their own bags to tote their merchandise — or use paper bags if stores supply or sell them.

Sunday is the day the city’s plastic bag ban goes into effect, prohibiting stores that are 10,000-square-feet or larger from dispensing single-use plastic bags to customers at checkout. That would include stores such as Shaw’s, Hannaford, JC Penney and Walmart.

Earlier this year, the state Legislature passed a law banning the practice at all Maine businesses, and in June, Gov. Janet Mills signed the bill into law. The statewide ban will go into effect on Earth Day, April 22, 2020.

Bill Gordon boxes up his groceries with complimentary boxes at Save-A-Lot at The Concourse in downtown Waterville on Thursday. Morning Sentinel photo by Michael G. Seamans

Toby Rose, general manager of Save-A-Lot on The Concourse in downtown Waterville, is prepared for Sunday’s launch.

“We will have paper bags for sale, but our clients are already used to bringing in their own bags,” Rose said Wednesday. “I do have clients that are buying bags in bulk right now to prepare for it.”

Rose said the store will continue to sell plastic bags to customers until Sunday, when the ban takes place. They are six cents each, he said.

Rose is on board with the city’s plastic bag ordinance.

“I definitely think it’s going to have a huge effect, so I’m really excited,” he said.

Hannaford, which has two stores in Waterville, at both Elm Plaza off Main Street and JFK Plaza off Kennedy Memorial Drive, also is ready.

Hannaford spokesman Eric Blom said the company has posted signs in the stores to inform people of the change. Hannaford has had a lot of experience with the plastic bag ban in other communities. Blom said paper bags will be available for sale in the stores for about five cents each, but there also is an environmental impact with paper bags in terms of manufacturing and trucking.

“We really hope that people will move toward reusable bags — that’s really the best environmental solution — but there are paper bags available,” Blom said.

Waterville residents in November approved the bag ban in a 3,052-2,906 vote.

The question on the ballot asked if voters wished to enact a proposed ordinance establishing a ban on providing free carryout plastic bags to a customer at the point of departure in any retail or commercial establishment with a retail or commercial space at or exceeding 10,000 square feet. The Sustain Mid-Maine Coalition helped to initiate the plastic bag ban.

Bill Gordon boxes up his groceries with complimentary boxes at Save-A-Lot at The Concourse in downtown Waterville on Thursday. Morning Sentinel photo by Michael G. Seamans

Waterville resident Todd Martin, who also helped in the bag ban effort, said Wednesday that it will help reduce litter in city neighborhoods.

“When Waterville voters approved the ordinance to ban plastic bags at big box (stores) at the polls last November, Waterville became the 20th Maine town to take action to reduce plastic bag pollution,” Martin said. “Not only do they litter our community, they clog sorting equipment at ecomaine where Waterville sends its recycling. Reusable shopping bags are a cheap and easy solution.”

Martin notes that with the ban starting in Waterville, shoppers may bring any type of bag they want with them to stores to use at check-out, including reusable plastic or paper bags. The ban does not ban thin film plastic bags used by stores to bag meat, fruit, vegetables or bulk items. All Waterville restaurants are exempt from the plastic bag ban, Martin said.

The city ordinance was to have gone into effect this year on Earth Day, April 22, but Mayor Nick Isgro led an effort to collect signatures from residents to force the votes to be recounted. The bag issue eventually went to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court after a recount reversed the election results, defeating the controversial measure by seven votes. The court dismissed the case and the bag ban ultimately was upheld. The City Council this spring voted 6-0 to extend the plastic bag ban launch to Sept. 1 to allow time for a city board to hear the appeal.

The ordinance, posted on the city website, www.waterville-me.gov, says it is in the best interest of residents and visitors to reduce the cost of solid waste disposal and protect the environment and natural resources by discouraging use of plastic carryout bags and encourage use of reusable bags at large stores. The ordinance, titled “Ordinance Regulating Carryout Plastic Shopping Bags,” says large stores may sell or give away paper bags to customers for carrying items.

Caleb Boivin, a clerk at Save-A-Lot at The Concourse in downtown Waterville, helps load groceries, bag-free, into a waiting cart as Bill Gordon, right, loads the conveyer belt with more items on Thursday. Morning Sentinel photo by Michael G. Seamans

The city’s code enforcement officer is the enforcer of the ordinance and shall issue a warning to stores violating it, according to the document. Subsequent violations are subject to up to a $250 fine for the first violation in a one-year period and up to $500 for the second and each subsequent violation on a one-year period.

Waterville Code Enforcement Officer Dan Bradstreet said this week that in June, he sent notices to all the stores that must comply with the bag ban and he heard back from only one that had some questions about the criteria for reusable bags.

“I sent out 21 notices, so there are 21 stores affected,” Bradstreet said. “I’m not anticipating any issues.”

In an email Thursday, Shaw’s issued a statement about the bag ban, saying Shaw’s and Star Market care about the environment. Their stores, offices and distribution centers take part in many programs that promote recycling, cardboard baling, plastics recycling, zero-waste programs and more, the statement says. 

“To reduce the use of plastic and paper bags, we continually encourage our customers to bring in reusable bags for their shopping orders. We also have available at our stores other shopping bag alternatives that further promote the use of reusable bags. In addition, we will continue to comply with all local ordinances regarding the use of plastic bags.”  

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