Senator Saviello, Representative Tucker, and members of the Joint Standing Committee on Environment and Natural Resources, my name is Ryan Parker and I am the Environmental Policy Outreach Coordinator for the Natural Resources Council of Maine. I appreciate this opportunity to testify Neither For Nor Against LD 57.
The problems created by single-use disposable bags are well documented, and have caused hundreds of communities in the United States and around the world to adopt policies that limit, ban, or discourage the use of such bags.
Single-use disposable bags are one of the most ubiquitous and quickly discarded items in our society. On average, these bags are used for only twelve minutes before being thrown away. Plastic bags, because of their weight and shape, routinely and easily find their way into our environment. They are often seen lining fences, entangled in trees, clogging storm drains, or tumbling across roadways.
Single-use plastic and paper bags create unnecessary and avoidable waste. Only about five percent of plastic bags are recycled. The rest end up at landfills, waste-to-energy plants, or in the environment. Plastic bags are not biodegradable, but they do break down into tiny pieces of plastic and are often mistaken as food by fish and wildlife—which can be fatal.
In many ways, these throwaway bags are contrary to Maine’s solid waste reduction hierarchy as defined in MRS 38, Section 2101. The first priority outlined in the hierarchy is to reduce the amount and toxicity of waste, yet these bags are intended to satisfy a very short-lived purpose before adding to the waste problem.
NRCM is encouraged by the many efforts here in Maine to reduce litter and waste from single-use disposable bags through the adoption of local ordinances. In just the last year and a half, seven Maine communities have adopted such ordinances.
Portland became the first city in Maine to adopt a policy to encourage reusable bags through a retailer-retained five-cent fee on both plastic and paper bags. Freeport recently adopted a plastic bag ban, and South Portland, York, Kennebunk, Falmouth, and Topsham have adopted ordinances banning or charging a fee for single-use disposable bags. Six additional Maine towns currently are considering similar policies. NRCM has worked with individuals in nearly every one of these towns. In fact, I have been invited to Bangor to speak to members of the City Council, staff, and residents to support their work to encourage the use of alternatives to single-use disposable bags. NRCM supports the intent of this bill, and we commend Representative Devin and others for their interest in addressing the problems created by disposable single-use bags. We very much would like to see the Committee develop a bill that earns bipartisan support and we offer the following ideas for you to consider during work session.
- Address both plastic and paper bags. Both types of disposable bags create waste and pollution problems. NRCM would not like to see a ban on plastic bags simply result in a shift toward paper bags, rather than a shift toward reusable bags.
- Focus on promoting reusable bags. We believe the primary purpose of the policy should be to promote easy, affordable alternatives to plastic and paper bags. You might even consider amending the bill’s title to “An Act to Encourage the Use of Alternatives to Single-use Disposable Bags.”
- Clarify the definition of plastic bag to bags that are at least 0.4 ml thick.
- Direct the DEP to include model ordinances on its website. This would be useful information for towns interested in adopting an ordinance of their own.
- Consider establishing a fee for both plastic and paper bags. This is the approach taken by Portland and a number of other towns—creating an option for consumers to pay for either type of bag, while also creating an incentive to avoid that cost by bringing their own reusable bags.
- Consider alternative trigger mechanisms for implementation of the policy. The bill as written would become effective September 1, 2020. As an alternative, the Committee might consider making bill language effective when a certain percentage of Maine towns have enacted a bag ordinance. The seven Maine towns currently with ordinances comprise about 11% of Maine’s population. Perhaps a trigger of 30% or 40% could be considered before statewide provisions were to go into place, as opposed to a date.
- Consider an opt-out option for towns. Although statewide uniformity would be preferable, the Committee might want to consider a mechanism that would allow towns to opt out of the policy. This would allow individual towns to craft ordinances that achieve the end goal in a manner consistent with the environmental and economic needs of each community.
- Consider creating an environmental protection fund with bag fee revenues. Washington, DC has adopted such an approach, with the revenue of their five-cent bag fee going into a fund aimed at protecting the Anacostia River. Ireland also used this approach when it passed nationwide legislation in 2002. The policy resulted in an immediate culture shift but also generates revenue for Ireland’s Environment Ministry. Portland and other towns opted not to pursue this approach, based on concerns about ease of implementation. However, it has worked in multiple other locations and is an idea worth further review by the Committee.
We share these ideas with the hope that they might help you shape a bill that earns broad Committee support. Thank you for this opportunity to provide comments. I would be glad to answer any questions you may have.