NRCM Testimony Regarding: An Act To Strengthen Recycling of Single-use Plastic Shopping Bags (LD 325); An Act To Encourage the Use of Alternatives to Single-use Plastic Disposable Bags (LD 396); and An Act To Reduce Waste from Disposable Bags (LD 680)
Senator Saviello, Representative Welsh, and members of the Joint Standing Committee on Environment and Natural Resources, my name is Sarah Lakeman and I am the Sustainable Maine Project Director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine. I appreciate this opportunity to testify Neither For Nor Against LD 325, LD 396, and LD 680.
NRCM is encouraged by the many efforts around the world, across the country, and here in Maine to reduce litter and waste from single-use disposable bags through encouraging the use of reusable bags. We look forward to learning from the experience of Portland and other Maine communities that are developing and adopting local ordinances, and we think these efforts, over time, may help lawmakers understand whether, or when, to adopt policies at the state level—and what approaches might be most effective.
There is little question that single-use disposable bags are one of the most quickly discarded items in our society today. Plastic bags tend to easily find their way into our environment and are often seen lining fences, entangled in trees, clogging storm drains, or as an ingredient in the ocean’s plastic soup. Paper bags, while more easily recycled and biodegradable, are not much better than plastic in terms of overall environmental impact.
Clearly, reusable bags are the smartest choice for the environment. Whether a statewide law, local ordinances, or voluntary approaches are the right way to go has been an ongoing issue before the Legislature. In 2009, this Committee considered legislation similar to the bills before you today and decided to encourage a stakeholder group to fully explore a voluntary approach to the promotion of reusable bags. NRCM participated in that effort, working with Maine Merchants Association, Maine Grocers Association, and the Maine State Planning Office as part of a 14-member work group. The result of our work was a Memorandum of Agreement that launched the “Got Your Bags, Maine?” campaign. That initiative had a decent start, but has largely failed since. The public education and outreach efforts that were promised have not been done. The Got Your Bags website is no longer active, the campaign’s Facebook page is defunct, and the Twitter account shows zero tweets in the past few years.
In the meantime, communities in Maine are taking the initiative on their own. Portland became first city in Maine to adopt a policy to encourage reusable bags through a retailer-retained 5-cent fee on both plastic and paper bags (due to take effect April 15, 2015). And the towns of York, Falmouth, Freeport, Brunswick and Topsham are not far behind in adopting similar ordinances. In fact, I am headed to a public hearing in York this evening to support their proposed program.
NRCM supports the general intent of these three bills, to reduce the use of disposable bags, and we would be glad to support the committee’s efforts during work session to evaluate the various approaches presented. Thank you for this opportunity to provide comments. I would be glad to answer any questions you may have.