For decades, the Natural Resources Council of Maine has been working with communities and lawmakers to reduce plastic waste and plastic pollution in our environment. On November 6, Camden, Damariscotta, Newcastle, and Waterville will vote on whether to ban single-use plastic shopping bags and polystyrene foam food containers. NRCM wholeheartedly support these bans.
Plastic pollution is a major environmental problem: Researchers predict that by 2050 there will be more tons of plastic than fish in the ocean. Plastics in the environment break up into tiny microscopic pieces that soak up toxic chemicals like mercury, DDT, phthalates, and flame retardants.
Floating in our oceans, these toxic micro-plastics look like food to the shellfish and fish species that we eat. Indeed, researchers at the Shaw Institute in Blue Hill, Maine, have found an average of 177 pieces of micro-plastics per animal in Penobscot Bay oysters. Larger film plastics, like plastic bags, are mistaken for food by seals, turtles, birds, and whales. For our health and for the lives of local wildlife, it is time to stem the tide of plastics reaching our waters.
Single-use plastic shopping bag bans coupled with a fee on paper bags don’t increase carbon emissions. Single-use plastic shopping bag ordinances are usually designed to encourage shoppers to bring reusable bags, not to switch to paper from plastic. Reusable shopping bags can be reused hundreds of times, and after just 11 uses they have a lower carbon footprint than plastic shopping bags.
Did you know that only about five percent of plastic shopping bags and zero percent of foam takeout food containers get recycled? The vast majority of Maine’s single-use plastic shopping bags and all polystyrene foam food containers go to a landfill or incinerator, or become litter. We can do better!
Even if we reuse a plastic shopping bag once or twice, the environmental impact is still greater than that of reusable bags. It is far better for the environment to bring a durable bag to the store that can be used over and over for years, than to reuse a plastic bag a couple of times.
Well-intentioned folks sometimes place plastic bags and foam takeout food containers in with their recyclables, not realizing that the bags can’t be recycled this way, and polystyrene can’t be recycled at all, anywhere in Maine. Plastic bags jam recycling machines and both materials contaminate bales of recyclable materials that our municipalities struggle to sell.
These ordinances get to the core of sustainability, which is to use resources efficiently and create less waste and pollution. Did you know that a town of 5,000 residents uses about 1.44 million single use plastic shopping bags every year? That’s a lot! And there are plenty of alternatives to both single use shopping bags and to polystyrene foam food containers, too.
For these reasons, we think Camden, Damariscotta, Newcastle, and Waterville should join the 15 other Maine towns and more than 100 states and nations in addressing the problem of single-use plastic bags and polystyrene food containers. NRCM has interviewed Code Enforcement Officers in the Maine towns that have plastic shopping bag ordinances and they have all said that the transition has been easy for both residents and businesses. Indeed, the sky has not fallen in these towns; to the contrary, these towns have less litter, cleaner waters, and more recognition as eco-friendly destinations.
If you would like to help your town pass ordinances that ban single-use plastic shopping bags and polystyrene foam food containers, NRCM is here to help! We have two guides for crafting local ordinances. You can find the polystyrene foam guide and the single-use plastic shopping bag guide on our website. As always, if you’d like in person assistance please feel free to contact Chrissy Adamowicz, Sustainable Maine Outreach Coordinator: Chrissy@nrcm.org or (207) 430-0144.