In 2019, with Governor Janet Mills’ signature, Maine became the third state in the nation to ban single-use plastic bags. The plastic bag ban came to fruition shortly after the passage of a neighboring bill that made our state the first in the nation to ban polystyrene foam food containers. The bill was a collaborative effort among conservationists, grocers, and retailers who teamed up with Representative Holly Stover (D-Boothbay) to draft a statewide approach for reducing pollution caused by single-use plastic bags and promoting reusable shopping bags.
Plastic pollution has ubiquitously infiltrated the environment, and unfortunately Maine is no exception. Plastic pollutes our waterways, coastlines, forests, and open spaces. It can also choke wildlife when it is mistaken for food. Research from health and environmental experts continues to affirm these negative impacts, which include posing a threat to human health as plastic is ingested by animals and toxins make their way up the food chain. Since plastic takes thousands of years to decay, the plastic problem will not just fix itself; it requires meaningful action.
Maine’s single-use plastic bags are wasteful and costly, and cause both environmental concerns and financial inefficiencies. Plastic bags are not recyclable—in fact, they can jam recycling equipment. Plastic bag contamination can also result in whole parcels of recycling being deemed unrecyclable and discarded. When plastic bags are mistakenly placed in recycling bins, they can escape and cause pollution.
After several delays related to the COVID-19 pandemic, Maine’s plastic bag law will go into place on July 1, 2021. It includes the following:
- Prohibits the distribution of plastic shopping bags at the point of sale at all retail establishments in Maine.
- Places a minimum five-cent fee on paper bags available at the point of sale at large retailers that sell food, to provide an incentive for shoppers to use reusable bags.
- Requires paper bags be made of recycled content and ensures that they are recyclable.
- Excuses participants in SNAP and WIC programs from paying the paper bag fee.
The Natural Resources Council of Maine (NRCM), alongside the Retail Association of Maine (RAM) and the Maine Grocers & Food Producers Association (MGFPA), worked with and listened to Mainers whose vision for a more sustainable bagging system gave rise to the bill. Support for the ban on single-use plastic bags was found on both sides of the consumer-retailer coin. Such widespread advocacy for a more environmentally conscious bagging system reflects Maine’s prospective legislative lens, as Maine continues to lead nationwide in efforts to reduce the effects of pollution.