Town councilors in Windham, ME, are considering 14-year Sierra Yost's proposal to ban all plastic shopping bags and charge 10 cents for paper bags.
“Inspired by a science class project on plastics, Sierra presented a proposal to the Windham Town Council on Tuesday to ban plastic bags and charge 10 cents for non-recyclable paper bags at the checkout counters of stores larger than 2,500 square feet,” the Kennebec Journal reports.
The town staff is writing up a draft of her proposal to present to the town council next week.
"They were really impressed with all the information I found," Yost said.
Some of the council members are onboard with the proposal.
"There's a lot of interest in it between the councilors. I don't think it's a bad idea," Councilor Tom Gleason said.
Should the council adopt Yost's proposal, Windham would be joining the ranks of a few other towns and cities in the U.S. that have passed similar anti-shopping bag laws.
"We would be the first town in Maine to put such an ordinance in place. Other towns would soon follow our lead -- we would start a chain reaction," Yost told the council during her presentation.
"Windham residents' new mantra would be 'Must remember reusable bags.' With the average person using four to five bags per shopping trip, it would only cost 50 cents to buy paper bags -- not enough to motivate people to shop in other towns, but just enough to kick the habit," she added.
Although there’s already a statewide campaign in place for reducing the use of shopping bags, Yost doesn’t believe the effort to get people to cut back voluntarily has been effective.
"We have to go a step farther," she said.
What’s slightly ironic about the proposal is that, according to the Kennebec Journal, Yost got the idea from a school project about the benefits of plastics.
“[S]he said it was what she learned about the negative impact that struck her most,” the Kennebec Journal’s Leslie Bridgers writes, “She said she learned that plastics break down into smaller pieces that can end up in the ocean and get eaten by animals, and also by humans.”
"That was a really scary thought," Sierra said.
So the industrious 8th grader sprung into action. She started by calling stores in her town to ask them to stop giving customers plastic bags.
"They all said it was a corporate thing," she said.
So she took the next step: she decided she would give the town council a presentation on the benefits of a bag ban/tax.
Her proposal, one that would affect stores with more than 2,500 square feet of retail space, “would completely ban the use of single-use plastic bags. Stores would be able to offer paper bags to customers for a 10-cent tax -- 1 cent of which would be kept by the retailer -- per bag,” according to The Independent.
While researching her presentation, Yost discovered similar bans passed in other cities and countries.
“In each case she presented, the imposition of a ban or tax on disposable shopping bags resulted in widespread adoption of reusable grocery bags within weeks,” The Independent reports.
“Yost said she estimated that, if her program resulted in 70 percent of shoppers using reusable bags, the tax on paper bags would bring the town about $90,000 in additional annual revenue," the report adds.
And she gathered more data.
“The week before her presentation to the council, she was still collecting information. She put out a survey to Windham Middle School parents asking where they shop and what type of bags they use,” the report claims.
“More than half of the 60 people who responded said they use reusable bags -- a figure that didn't match the statistic she got from the local Shaw's supermarket, which indicated that 85 percent of customers use plastic,” the report adds.
She included all the above in a fact sheet she gave to councilors during her presentation, which she said "went really well,” according to Bridgers.
The Windham town council is meeting next week to discuss the ban.