Reusable bags make sense. Reusable bags are stronger than disposable ones, break less often, and can help you make fewer trips into the house with your groceries. Most grocery items are already packaged to prevent spills or leaks, but you can launder your reusable bags if needed. There are so many problems with single-use bags, that any convenience gained by their use is overshadowed by all the negative costs to society.
It helps stop litter and protect wildlife. Unnecessary single-use disposable shopping bags often end up clogging storm drains, jamming recycling equipment, getting entangled in trees, and floating out to sea. Plastic bags are non-biodegradable, but they do break down into tiny pieces and are often mistaken as food by fish and wildlife—which can be fatal. When more people use reusable bags there will be less bag litter in the environment.
Educational campaigns alone aren’t as effective as bans or fees. Bans or fees on disposable bags discourages their use and leads to widespread change in consumer behavior, which is why these programs are succeeding in ways that voluntary educational campaigns simply do not. NRCM knows this from experience, as a member of a 2009 working group to explore creating a voluntary program which resulted in the creation of the Got Your Bags, Maine? campaign. Unfortunately, the working group members who were responsible for carrying out the public education and outreach efforts quickly gave up, the campaign has fallen far short of its goals, and we can’t help but conclude that it has done little to reduce the use of disposable bags.
You can still get plastic bags that you want or need. Many people use plastic bags a second time after carrying goods home: This is one step better than throwing them away after shopping, but most shopping bags are tossed after just one use. There are easy to find, cheap alternatives available for lining waste bins, storing food, or cleaning up pet waste. This is not a good reason to continue handing out unlimited plastic bags at stores.
Only 5% of plastic bags get recycled. Although many retailers offer collection bins for plastic bags, they aren’t used often. Simply reminding people to bring their plastic bags back to the store with them clearly isn’t the only solution for reducing plastic bag waste.
Reusable bag ordinances work. A fee or ban on disposable bags creates an incentive for people to remember their reusable bags when they shop. Over time, this becomes second nature: Just like you remember your car keys, your glasses, and your cellphone, you remember your bags. The more towns have bans or fees on disposable bags, the more people will remember to bring their bags with them. And, if people forget, they can always buy a reusable or disposable bag inexpensively.
Hundreds of cities around the world have adopted successful policies that significantly reduce the number of single-use disposable bags in their communities, including the Maine communities of:
|Maine Municipality||Basic Ordinance Structure||Date Implemented|
|Portland||Five-cent fee on paper and plastic bags at stores with greater than 2% food sales||April 15, 2015|
|South Portland||Five-cent fee on paper and plastic bags at stores with greater than 2% food sales||March 1, 2016|
|York||Ban on all plastic carryout bags||March 1, 2016|
|Falmouth||Five-cent fee on paper and plastic bags at stores that are 10,000 square feet and larger||April 1, 2016|
|Freeport||Ban on plastic bags and five-cent fee on paper bags at stores with greater than 2% food sales. It does not affect retailers.||September 12, 2016|
|Kennebunk||Ban on all plastic carryout bags||October 14, 2016|
|Topsham||Five-cent fee on paper and plastic bags at stores with greater than 2% of food sales||May 7, 2017|
|Brunswick||Ban on single-use plastic bags||September 1, 2017|
|Saco||Ban on single-use plastic bags||October 1, 2017|
|Cape Elizabeth||Five-cent fee on single-use carryout bags at farm stands and stores where food generates at least 2 percent of overall sales||December 6, 2017|
|Belfast||Ban on single-use plastic bags and polystyrene carryout containers||January 1, 2018|
|Bath||Ban on single-use plastic bags, five-cent fee on paper bags with escalating fee to 15 cents after third year||April 22, 2018|
|Manchester||Ban on single-use plastic bags||July 1, 2018|
|Blue Hill||Ban on single-use plastic bags||June 2018|
|Rockland||Ban on single-use plastic bags and foam containers||January 1, 2019|
|Bar Harbor||Ban on single-use plastic bags||February 14, 2019|
|Damariscotta||Ban on single-use plastic bags||March 1, 2019|
|Newcastle||Ban on single-use plastic bags||March 1, 2019|
|Southwest Harbor||Ban on single-use plastic bags||April 22, 2019|
|Camden||Ban on single-use plastic bags||April 30, 2019|
|Mount Desert||Ban on single-use plastic bags||May 8, 2019|
|Biddeford||Ban on single-use plastic bags||July 15, 2019|
|Waterville||Ban on single-use plastic bags at retail stores of 10,000 square feet or more||Takes effect on September 1, 2019|
|Tremont||Ban on single-use plastic bags||Takes effect on October 21, 2019|
|Bethel||Ban on single-use plastic bags||Takes effect on January 11, 2020|