Last week’s hearing on the plastic bag ordinance was held at the Bethel Inn Conference Center. It started at 6 p.m. and lasted almost an hour and a half. Bethel Citizen photo by Samuel Wheeler

BETHEL — Last Wednesday’s public hearing on “the commitment to eliminate single use plastic bags and foam food and beverage containers” generated a lengthy discussion. Nearly 30 people attended the hearing.

Background 

The main purpose of the proposed ordinance is to “reduce the impact of plastics on our environment, reduce litter on our roadsides, and reduce taxpayer expense to manage solid waste.”

Plastic bags and polystyrene foam are non-biodegradable, meaning they only break into pieces of micro plastics, which fish and wildlife can often mistake as food. Certain wildlife can also become stuck in these pieces of plastic, which can lead to injury or death.

Many forms of plastic are also found as litter on the side of roads in the area.

Lastly, “single use plastic bags and foam are not recyclable in Bethel’s present waste management system,” which means they are “added to the Bethel’s solid waste stream or contaminate Bethel’s recycling stream, and are a significant cost to the town.”

Bethel resident Sarah Southam and Gould Academy student Maddie Williams of Mason brought the plastic bag ordinance to the town.

The language of the proposed ordinance was changed from a “ban on plastic bags” to a “commitment to eliminate plastic bags and foam food and beverage containers. ”

The fee on paper bags was also dropped from the ordinance. Originally there was going to be a minimum fee of five cents for a single use paper carryout bag. Williams said they decided to drop the fee after receiving feedback from local businesses.

The film “Bag It” will be shown at the Gem Theater on Thursday May 30 at 6:30 p.m. The movie focuses on a man who makes a resolution to quit using plastic bags at grocery stores and eventually learns that the overall excessive use of plastic bags has a largely negative effect on the world.

Southam and Williams encourage anyone with opinions on the subject to attend.

The plastic bag ordinance is part of William’s senior project for Gould, but she said she would be doing it regardless.

People who want a copy of the ordinance can go to the Bethel town office or visit www.bethelmaine.org and find them under  “minutes and agendas.”

Discussion

Resident Jane Ryerson asked if there would be a date given to stores to when they need to stop using plastic bags.

Selectmen plan to decide a date on when the ordinance would go into effect, if approved, before the vote on June 11.

“We’re not going to start going after businesses the next day, we would set a time with the town manager and then communicate that to the businesses so they have time,” Pete Southam said.

In the ordinance, it says if the town manager or his/her designee(s) discovers that a business has violated the ordinance, a written warning notice will be issued to the store. Subsequent violations would then result in penalties which will be made then Bethel select board.

“We’ve got to give the businesses a time, there should be a specific date,” Ryerson said.

Sarah Southam said sometime in November was mentioned as a possible date.

“It’s not our intention to throw it down businesses’ throat the next day, we can’t just do this overnight,” she said.

“We’re supposed to vote on something that could impose potential penalties to us, but we don’t know what they are. The selectmen voted to put this on the town warrant before knowing what the final wording was,” Rick Whitney said. “The selectmen should be voting on something that they know the exact wording of.”

He added that he thinks the ordinance is an attack on businesses in the area.

“That was not the intent of this ordinance, the intent was to make a positive difference now and for future generations,” resident Brooke Libby said.

Resident Allen Connors asked what the state was currently doing on plastic bags and if the town could maybe follow in the same footsteps as them.

Pete Southam said that Gov. Janet Mills recently signed into law a ban on polystyrene, but that the law would not go into effect until 2021.

“There’s also some movement toward single-use plastic bag elimination at the state level, but that law has not been voted by the Senate and gone into effect yet,” Pete Southam said.

Resident Scott Hynek said he always chooses plastic bags at the IGA because he lives on a farm and they come in useful.

“I reuse everyone of my plastic bags, and if I didn’t have them, I’d have to buy them from somewhere else. What’s the sense in that,” Hynek said.

“What we have to do now is think about now is reducing our waste,” Sarah Southam said. “Reusing and recycling are not really going to apply very soon because there is no market for recycling anymore. Even if you use it again for something, it’s still going to end up in the garbage and it’s never going to break down.”

“If you dispose of it responsibly then it’s not an issue, the issue is with people littering,” Hynek said.

Sarah said the market for recycling has “dropped out.”

Between July and February, Bethel spent $153,000 disposing of waste, according to Sarah Southam.

“I think education is huge, I’ve been educating myself for a number of years on how to live a plastic-free life,” Bethel resident Christine Trefethen said. “It’s changing habits. I want my children to have a world to live in, we’re filling up our world with garbage and someone has to put their foot down.”

“I think it’s important thing for us to try. People come to the area because it is unique and it’s clean and I think this is an ideal way to start,” resident Rosemary Laban said.

“I think there’s still some components missing in this that we need to work on,” Selectman Lori Swain said.

Swain cited the date as one of the key components that needs to be figured out.

“I just don’t like the idea of government making someone do this, I’d rather see us do this on our own, without that,” Selectman Andy Whitney said. “I think that no matter what happens with this ordinance it will be a win-win to some extent, because at the very least it has brought things to light that have not been brought to light.”

Selectmen Don Bennett and Lloyd Sweetser were not present at the hearing.


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