Blog : Local Group Proposes Ordinance on Single-Use Plastics

By Mike | Feb 18, 2015 | in

By Mike Bizier

On February 3 the New Hampshire chapter of the Surfrider Foundation’s Rise Above Plastics (RAP) coalition proposed a reduction of single-use plastic bags to the Portsmouth City Council. The ordinance, which aims at reducing plastics pollution, is currently awaiting votes before it is brought before the council for final ruling.

Formed in 1984, the Surfrider Foundation is a non-profit, nation-wide organization aimed at protecting the world’s oceans, waves, and beaches, The NH chapter was formed in 2007 and is involved in monthly beach clean-ups, removing anywhere from 50-90 pounds of trash from the shoreline. In March 2013, the NH chapter formed the RAP coalition with several groups and businesses including Green Alliance, Zero Waste Portsmouth, Seacoast Science Center, Blue Ocean Society for Marine Conservation, and The Gundalow Company. Both The Gundalow Company and the Blue Ocean Society are Business Partners with the Green Alliance, a union of businesses and consumers educating the public about the goods and services they use, and encourage more sustainable choices. The GA represents over 100 local green-leaning businesses and has put its weight behind the ordinance to reduce single-use plastic bags in Portsmouth and is using its bullhorn to educate and advocate around the issue.

The RAP committee, has made it their mission to pursue common sense solutions for reducing sources of plastic pollution in the marine environment. “Plastic pollution represents a great danger here on the seacoast,” says RAP committee member Kevin Lucey. “Plastic bags are not biodegradable, and plastic pollution in the ocean is not just a faraway problem. There are recent examples of sea animals dying from plastic bags and we believe that is unacceptable.”

After conducting a multi-year educational campaign - including 30 outreach events such as film screenings and lectures - the ordinance was submitted to the City Council. The RAP committee has also sent out an ongoing petition, which is heavily supported by both Portsmouth citizens and non-Portsmouth residents. In addition to the petition, the RAP committee sent a survey to local businesses and received 68 responses, with 66% in favor of the proposed ordinance.

“We know that most small locally-owned businesses don’t have a problem with reducing single-use plastic bags,” says GA Director Sarah Brown who has 5 years’ experience working with small community-minded businesses. “We find it’s mostly the larger chains holding on to the idea of disposable plastic bags; mainly because they have already purchased large amounts of these bags and may have years’ supplies already in stock; we like the fact that stores do get 12 months to use up existing plastic bags they already have in stock.”

If accepted, the ordinance will go into effect 12 months after the approval vote and calls for Portsmouth grocery stores and retailers to offer recycled paper bags at 10 cents each or place items in bags provided by customers. Exemptions would be made for customers on the Special Supplement Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) who wouldreceive the paper bags at no extra cost.

Should the proposal pass, retailers are expected to keep track of the total number of recycled paper bags sold, the amount of money collected from selling the bags, and efforts made to promote reusable bags.

The proposal also provides an outline for effectively enforcing the ordinance. First time offenders would receive a written warning from the Public Works Director with subsequent offenses potentially receiving a citation of $100 per occurrence.

City Councilor Brad Lown is in favor of the ordinance and initially presented it to the City Council. Lown has experience in making the city of Portsmouth more environmentally-friendly.

“I was on the Sustainability Committee for a few years,” Lown says. Though he is no longer part the committee, Lown said he did speak with representatives from the RAP about the ordinance and worked with them on bringing the proposal to the council.

“Our proposal was basically a three minute presentation summarizing the ordinance,” Lucey says. “We requested a first ordinance reading and there won’t be an actual vote until after the third reading. As far as I know though, it was discussed after the reading and is being forwarded to the City Manager, City Attorney, and the Blue Ribbon Committee on Sustainable Practices.”

Supporters shouldn’t expect a vote to come up anytime soon however. “It’s going to take a few months,” Lown says. “I was the one who spoke about it, and it was then referred to the Sustainability Committee to get their feedback. They meet once a month, so it’s going to take a month or two for it to get back to us. And when it gets back to us it will then have to go through the City Attorney to review the ordinance, and then the city recycling center. So the first reading isn’t going to happen for two or three months.”

In order for the ordinance to pass, it will need five votes at every reading. The ordinance may also be amended during the second reading. But, in spite of the odds, Lucey has high hopes for the ordinance. “There was a similar ordinance in California starting at the municipal level,” Lucey says. “Today that affects the whole state.”

Learn more about RAP, the NH Surfriders and this campaign at www.newhampshire.surfrider.org/campaigns/
To find out more about Blue Ocean Society, visit www.blueoceansociety.org
For more info on the Gundalow Company, go to
www.gundalow.org