The Damariscotta Board of Selectmen heard resistance, including from several business owners, as well as support for a proposal to ban plastic bags and Styrofoam during a public hearing Wednesday, Sept. 5.
If Damariscotta voters approve a new plastics ordinance in November, it would ban single-use plastic carryout bags and polystyrene foam food containers.
The selectmen requested that speakers address whether they would like to see any specific changes to the draft ordinance and whether they support the idea of the plastic ban in general.
“This ordinance is nothing more than a control tactic,” resident Elizabeth Printy said.
Printy said the county has adequate options for waste disposal, the town’s residents responsibly dispose of their trash, and since Damariscotta is a service center, many visitors rely on bags.
“None of us wants to promote practices that hurt the landscape, the seascape, living things, or any part of earth,” Printy said. “But don’t tax us or deprive us (of) the convenience of a bag for bought goods.”
“It seems that we are spending time on a solution to a problem that hasn’t appeared yet,” resident Alan Bebout said.
“I don’t see them in the environment, so what’s the problem?” Bebout said. “What is the local problem? Not what is the world coping with, and bad guys that may be living in Angola or Vietnam.”
“This is not a problem for Southeast Asia, this is a problem for us here,” said Julie Lamy, of Nobleboro, a proponent of the ordinance.
Plastic bags are “breaking into microplastics,” Lamy said. “Microplastics attract toxic chemicals … the fish are eating them, the shellfish are eating them. Those toxic chemicals are going into the meats and fats that we love to eat.”
“There is just so much plastic out there,” said Bristol resident Joanna Holland, a member of Pemaquid Watershed Association’s Keep Pemaquid Peninsula Beautiful Steering Committee. She said that during a cleanup of Route 130 this year, over 100 large trash bags of litter were collected.
“It really is not a punishment,” she said of using reusable bags.
“I don’t think everyone should be prosecuted,” said Elijah Curtis, owner of the Damariscotta barbecue stand Mr. Ribs. “I think there could be a remedy somewhere, other than this taking place.”
“It would hurt my business, as a new business in Damariscotta, tremendously,” he said, since much of his business is takeout, for which he uses low-cost Styrofoam containers.
“I’ve gone back and forth with this,” said Jane Gravel. Gravel, with her husband, owns Main Street Grocery, Supplies Unlimited, Oliver’s Print Shop, and Hilltop Stop.
“I think that people are pretty responsible in this area,” she said. She said switching to paper bags at the grocery store would cost an extra $100 a week and packaging meat would double in cost. “I feel that you are taking away the right of people who do use those plastic bags for other things.”
“I don’t think that plastic bags are necessary,” resident Laurie Green said. “It might reflect well on our community to show that we care about not only each other and human beings, but animals and our coastal waterways.”
“This is both a global and a local problem,” said Tom Young-Bayer, a resident of Newcastle who worked as a marine scientist for 10 years.
Young-Bayer said plastic bags end up in waterways before they are seen as litter, then quickly break down into microplastics.
Chrissy Adamowitz, sustainable Maine outreach coordinator for the Natural Resources Council of Maine, said a scientific study found microplastics in local oysters.
According to the Natural Resources Council of Maine website, scientists at Maine’s Marine & Environmental Research Institute found an average of 17 pieces of microplastics per liter of seawater, and the average Maine oyster or mussel contains 177 plastic particles per animal.
“Damariscotta would be joining 15 other Maine towns,” Adamowitz said of having an ordinance. “It’s definitely an important issue.”
One aspect of the draft ordinance that many in attendance did not support was a 10-cent fee on paper bags, included to encourage use of reusable bags.
“I really think it should be up to the business owner,” Gravel said.
Jigger Clark, owner of Clark Farms, said charging for bags would negatively impact his business, partially because he would have to charge more for produce at his farm stand on Main Street.
“Your ordinance is not really rewarding me in any way,” he said.
“I (would be) literally nickel-and-diming our customers over a paper bag that we already give away,” saidMartha Kalina, owner of Gifts at 136. Kalina said her business already uses paper bags rather than plastic.
After the public hearing, the selectmen decided to remove the mandatory fee for paper bags and leave the decision up to business owners. The definition of a reusable bag in the ordinance will be clarified.
Due to the changes, the town will hold another public hearing at the town office at 5:30 p.m., Wednesday, Sept. 19.
Residents will vote on the ordinance Nov. 6.