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Going Green raises questions among Portland retailers

PORTLAND (WGME) -- Going green is raising questions in Portland, as retailers prepare to charge a fee for bags and get rid of foam packaging.

In April, taking groceries home in a plastic or paper bag will cost shoppers .05 a piece..

"I do think it's a good thing it will keep our city cleaner," said Julie Parker, store manager at Paul's Food Center on Congress Street.

Parker said the city's new ordinance shouldn't cause much trouble for customers either.

"We don't think it's really gonna affect a lot of people 'cause they come in and get a few bags," she said. "We don't think it's gonna hurt that much."

Food stamps won't cover the cost because it isn't for food, according to officials with the city, and the Department of Health and Human Services in Augusta.

But it's unclear whether they'll be charged in the first place.

DHHS spokesman John Martins said, "We are seeking guidance from the USDA, who oversees this program, as to how this charge will be treated.  The federal government sets the rules for the food supplement program."

Questions are also coming up about the ban on styrofoam, especially among businesses that offer take out food. Many are trying to figure out what the alternatives are and how much they'll cost.

"So we dont have to pass onto the customers," said Eric Martin, who owns downtown restaurant Federal Spice.

Martin would like to see some guidance from the city. 

"I wish they would give us an alternative," he said, "Do some research, help us."

Help may be just up the road. The town of Freeport banned styrofoam back in 1990.

Bow Street Market Manager Jim Frey said his store transitioned to paper cups, cardboard carry out boxes, and even found a biodegradable material that looks and feels like styrofoam.

The cost, he said, can be twice as much, but it hasn't hurt their bottom line.

"Matter of fact, there's been a lot of feedback from customers, which was mostly positive," said Frey.

Both ordinances take effect on April 15, 2015.

City councilor Ed Suslovic is encouraging shoppers to buy reusable bags, and said on Wednesday, he hopes everyone will make adjustments sooner rather than later.