A group called the Blue Hill Trash Action Group wants the town to ban businesses from using plastic bags. THINKSTOCK PHOTO

Blue Hill considers plastic bag ban

BLUE HILL — When Semena Curlik shops, she packs her groceries in two canvas bags she bought in 1980.

“Those bags are now 37 years old,” Curlik said. “They’re probably good for another 30 years. When they reach their end-of-life cycle, it’s cotton, it’s compostable. No chemicals in it.”

Curlik and another Blue Hill resident, Gabrielle Wellman, are working on an ordinance to prohibit Blue Hill businesses from using plastic bags. The two are members of the Blue Hill Trash Action Group.

Members of the Blue Hill Trash Action Group, Semena Curlik (left) and Gabrielle Wellman, talk to the Blue Hill Selectmen Friday about banning plastic bags in the town.

The women plan to provide the Blue Hill selectmen, who support their proposal, with a draft ordinance by the end of January.

The selectmen will refine the ordinance and hold public hearings in advance of the annual Town Meeting in April, where voters will decide on whether to ban plastic bags.

Curlik said the proposed ordinance also would prohibit the use of single-use polystyrene containers, which are often used as restaurant takeout containers.

Some towns have banned the sale of polystyrene, Curlik said.

“In other words, a customer can’t go in and buy 100 Styrofoam cups, which I think is a good way to go.”

Selectmen Jim Schatz, Vaughn Leach and Ellen Best all said they were in favor of such an ordinance when they met with Curlik and Wellman during the weekly selectmen’s meeting Friday.

Best, who is also an attorney, said she is concerned about enforcement.

“You don’t want to pass an ordinance that isn’t enforced,” Best said.

Leach said, “I’m for it, but I keep thinking about how complex the details get.”

Curlik and Wellman have researched plastic bag ordinances, which have been passed in more than a dozen municipalities — mainly in southern Maine and the Midcoast.

Some towns have enacted a fee for plastic bags, but Curlik and Wellman want a total ban.

“Things will never change if you charge a fee,” Curlik said.

“I think what motivates me is the whole health care issue about all of our pollution,” Curlik said. “That’s what I’m looking at. Preserving the air, the land and the water for sustainability — not only to feed ourselves but for future generations.

“I’ve been in the health care industry for a very long time. Most cancers are environmentally induced, not genetic.”

Wellman, in an email response, wrote, “I am very concerned with the amount of micro plastics found in our coastal waters. It has been documented both locally (Marine & Environmental Research Institute) and globally is showing up in our fish and on our tables in our food. It is negatively affecting our health.”

Yet, there are people who think paper is not better than plastic.

A research paper, published in 2007 by an Australian state agency, found paper bags have a higher carbon footprint than plastic bags, according to an article in Wired called “Banning Plastic Bags Is Great for the World, Right? Not So Fast.”

The article said more energy is required to produce and transport paper bags than plastic bags.

Curlik remains firmly anti-plastic.

“Paper is a renewable resource whereas plastic is made from petroleum products,” she said. Petroleum “is finite. Once we use it up, there is no more.”

“Paper is compostable and it basically breaks down to benign ingredients even if you litter in the forest or the water,” Curlik said. Eventually, all the plastic ends up in the oceans. “Plastic is in the DNA of our fish now.”

“The real answer lies in reducing your waste products,” Curlik said.

Chuck Lawrence, who owns Tradewinds Marketplace with wife Belinda, is not concerned about the potential plastic bag ban.

“It will have an effect, but I don’t think it will be a negative effect,” Lawrence said. “It will force us to be better.”

“I think we’ve done a good job with getting customers to bring their own bags in,” Lawrence said.

He estimated 20 to 25 percent of customers currently bring their own bags.

“I think we’ll continue to work toward moving that bar,” Lawrence said.

Tradewinds also has a stockpile of boxes for customers to use instead of plastic bags.

Jennifer Osborn

Jennifer Osborn

Reporter and columnist at The Ellsworth American
News Reporter Jennifer Osborn covers news and features on the Blue Hill Peninsula and Deer Isle-Stonington. She welcomes tips and story ideas. She also writes the Gone Shopping column. Email Jennifer with your suggestions at [email protected] or call 667-2576.