News Feature

Blue Hill
Originally published in The Weekly Packet, January 11, 2018
Selectmen to propose regulating plastic bags, polystyrene

Trash Action Group

Trash Action Group members Gabrielle Wellman, right, and Semena Curlik discuss putting an ordinance regulating plastic/polystyrene use before voters at a January 5 Blue Hill Selectmen’s meeting.

Photo by Anne Berleant Order prints of selected PBP photos.

by Anne Berleant

Voters could decide whether to ban plastic bags for groceries and other goods and one-time-use polystyrene, or Styrofoam, products, if selectmen continue to move forward after meeting with Trash Action Group members January 5.

The request to place such an ordinance on the town meeting warrant came from TAG members Gabrielle Wellman and Semena Curlik, who discussed similar ordinances enacted in 13 towns across Maine with selectmen. The possibilities are wide: to charge for use, to ban outright, to allow polystyrene take-out containers but not plastic grocery sacks or vice versa, and to ban or not ban goods such as eggs, meat and seafood pre-packaged in polystyrene to be sold in local stores.

“If you were head of the world, how would Blue Hill’s ordinance be?” Selectman Jim Schatz asked Wellman and Curlik.

The two women favored an outright ban on one-time-use polystyrene, and plastic bags at check out.

“The fact is that even charging for plastic bags is not reducing consumption,” Curlik said. “We can’t change human behavior by charging.”

Curlik noted that vendors have cooperated with the state of Maine, which has banned one-time-use polystyrene at state functions for over 20 years, and with towns like Portland that have banned Styrofoam in pre-packaged products.

Selectmen said they supported placing an ordinance regulating use, in some form, before voters.

“I wouldn’t agree with accepting a regulation that would prohibit pre-packaged [polystyrene products],” Schatz said. “That’s going too far.”

They agreed to move forward in time for a town meeting vote, with TAG to supply a draft or the main bullet points for an ordinance by the end of January.

“I’m for it but I keep thinking how complex the details are,” Chairman of Selectmen Vaughn Leach said, adding that he had “interviewed a couple retailers” who were not resistant to the idea. “They figured it was coming.”

Curlik, a trained physician, said environmental and health concerns drove her to propose the ban. “I see human and animal health tied to our land and water. If that’s impacted by pollution, we’re all impacted. If we keep the environment clean, we all win.”

The town may vote to ban plastics but policing the ordinance would bring challenges.

“The enforcement issues are a concern,” Selectman Ellen Best said.