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Windham Town Council discusses recycling, rezoning

By Bill Cleary

In a brisk two-hour meeting, the Windham Town Council appointed a new member to the Planning Board and discussed ongoing issues related to the town's growth and commercial development in its April 10 meeting.

Windham resident and former town councilor Carol Waig spoke several times during the meeting and first addressed the council as the sole person to speak during the public comment segment, voicing a complaint about her curbside recycling pickup.

''We put our recyclables in a bin that isn't necessarily the town bin, and it has a lid on it -- which means that when they're dumping my recyclables, they're not being as careful as they probably should be, because I am chasing my recyclables up and down my street. This happens every Monday, and I'm getting a little annoyed with it,'' Waig said. ''It doesn't do any good, really, to call Public Works, because I've done that and I've been down that road. They've contacted the trash company and, obviously it doesn't do any good to talk to the drivers. So I'm kindly asking for you guys to help. I'm not sure what you can do, but it's their job to make sure that the recyclables end up in the truck and not up and down the street.''

Town Manager Tony Plante responded that the town's waste-management company, Pine Tree Waste, is generally responsive to reports of incidents such as Waig's and that he would work with them.

The issue of recycling came up in a different way later in the meeting, when 13-year-old Sierra Yost, an eighth-grader at Windham Middle School, presented to the council a proposal to eliminate the use of conventional plastic grocery bags in Windham.

''Plastic bags are difficult to recycle and, when thrown in landfills, will remain there for over 1,000 years,'' Yost said. ''Americans use 1 billion plastic bags per year, and that creates 300,000 tons of landfill waste. 200,000 plastic bags are thrown into a landfill per hour worldwide. That alone should be enough reason that everyone should ban them.''

In addition to the waste concerns, Yost discussed the health effects on humans of plastic bags entering the ocean after not being properly disposed of.

''Plastic bags do not biodegrade -- they only photodegrade, or break into smaller pieces. Those pieces can end up in the ocean, where they are eaten by marine wildlife,'' Yost said. ''Those animals are eaten by other animals, and those animals are eaten by animals, and so on and so forth, until they end up in humans -- the biotoxins in the plastic travel the whole way, eventually ending up in our systems.''

Yost's proposal, which would affect all 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.

In her research for the presentation, Yost investigated similar programs 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.

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.

''If this ordinance passed, Windham shoppers' means of shopping would be different,'' Yost said. ''There would be no more single-use plastic bags. We would be considered a green town. 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. 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.''

Windham resident Delene Perley approved of Yost's proposal and acknowledged that the common habit of forgetting to bring reusable bags out shopping needs to be broken.

''I'm very impressed with what you did. I also, as a part of a project at our church, observed people leaving the various grocery stores in town to see how many people used the recyclable bags. It's maybe 30 to 40 percent of them who use at least one, but not for everything. And I don't think it's going to change unless we have a law like this, so I think it's really important,'' Perley said. ''We must try to do something about this for our environment, and I'd be very proud to be part of a Windham that would do this.''

The council discussed and heard comment from the public on a proposed rezoning of properties on the east side of Roosevelt Trail as commercial and the the amendment of the Land Use Ordinance to add a zoning overlay zone on the same road. Rather than voting on the orders, however, Council Chairman Scott Hayman moved that the council postpone the votes until its next meeting, on April 24.

The motion to postpone passed, 4-1, with Councilor David Nadeau against. Council Vice Chairman Matthew Noel was absent from the meeting.

In its final vote of the evening before adjourning just after 9 p.m., the council voted, 5-0, to appoint Windham resident David Douglas to the Planning Board at the recommendation of Councilor Thomas Gleason, who also serves on the Appointments Committee, which voted earlier in the evening, 3-2, to recommend him to the Town Council.

''I think he's going to be an asset. He's an architect and what we're looking for,'' Gleason said.

The council also voted unanimously to grant a victualer's permit to The Grateful Bread Cafe and Bakery, located at 781 Roosevelt Trail; to grant licenses to the Moosehead Lake Fisheries Coalition to conduct games of chance, and to change the council's rules of procedure to allow a member of the council to be appointed to the board of directors of the Windham Economic Development Corporation.

The Windham Town Council will meet next at 7 p.m. April 24 in the Windham Town Council Chambers.


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