Senator Carson, Representative Tucker, 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 (NRCM). I appreciate this opportunity to speak to you in strong support of LD 1532.
NRCM has worked alongside most of the 22 Maine municipalities that have approved a policy regulating single-use plastic carryout bags. About 21% of Maine’s population lives in a town or city with a policy discouraging the use of plastic carryout bags through bans or fees, but the ordinances reach many more residents and tourists. There are at least eight more Maine towns that are considering adopting a local policy. It’s clear: Maine people want to discontinue the unlimited distribution of thin single-use plastic carryout bags at stores. These policies are a direct response to the critical environmental issue of plastic pollution. It’s time for a strong and consistent statewide policy on single-use plastic carryout bags.
Classifying plastic pollution as a global threat is undeniable and it deserves action on the local, state, and global level. The problem is so much more than the well-known “Pacific garbage patch” and plastic is now considered to be the smog of the sea. It’s found on uninhabited islands, deep ocean trenches, and even in our drinking water. Plastic doesn’t break down, rather it breaks up into smaller and smaller pieces. One in three species of marine mammals have been found entangled in marine litter, and 90% of all seabirds have plastic pieces in their stomachs.
Plastic bags have become a target for bans all over the world since they are used so widely and have made such a huge contribution to plastic pollution and animal deaths, and because they can easily be replaced with an alternative. Here are some startling plastic bag facts:
- Plastic carry-out bags have only been in use since 1979 and now it’s estimated that one million are distributed at checkout per minute around the globe.
- Plastic carry-out bags are the fourth most common type of plastic found in clean-ups across the nation.
- It’s estimated that the average American household collects about 1,500 single-use plastic bags per year at checkout—which is far more than could feasibly be reused at home.
- Less than 6 % of plastic bags are recycled.
In general, we need to reflect on the folly of using plastic, a material that lasts for hundreds, if not thousands, of years for products meant to offer only a moment of convenience, especially when there are alternatives or reusable alternatives that don’t destroy marine ecosystems and kill wildlife if they leak into the environment. Plastic shopping bags are the low-hanging fruit of unnecessary single-use plastics, making them a ripe candidate for a ban.
We’ve learned that education programs alone don’t work in reducing the use or recycling of plastic bags; and plastic bag fees have reduced their use but have not eliminated the problem of plastic bag litter that is so badly needed. Moreover, plastic bags are a primary source of contamination in our recycling programs and often tangle in recycling equipment. The only way to reduce all of the negative impacts of unlimited plastic shopping bag distribution is the ban them altogether. The number one priority of LD 1532 is to discontinue the distribution of ubiquitous thin plastic bags used at check-out, which it would do at all retail establishments in the state with some reasonable exclusions for certain uses.
NRCM urges you to be wary of the misleading claims from the plastic industry that plastic is more “earth-friendly” than paper and reusable bags. The industries that profit from plastic use cherry-picked life-cycle data in order to confuse people and distract from the fact that their thin plastic bags are polluting our oceans and killing wildlife at a rapid pace. The industry-funded studies also do not account for all of the health impacts of plastic manufacturing, which of course is a byproduct of the fossil fuel industry and loaded with phthalates, BPA, and other hazardous chemicals, nor do these studies assess what happens when the oceans are loaded with plastic bag litter.
We know with complete certainty that single-use plastics like plastic bags are a primary source of deadly ocean pollution and the flow of plastic into the ocean is showing no sign of slowing down. This is an issue of ocean health and disposable plastics are the problem, not paper and reusable products.
NRCM acknowledges that single-use plastic bags will need to be replaced with an alternative, and those alternatives have their own environmental footprint. That is why we support provisions in this bill to mitigate any unintended consequences of using alternatives to single-use plastic bags. Evidence from other jurisdictions supports that requiring a fee for paper bags provides enough of an incentive to change consumer habits; and many shoppers will remember to bring a reusable bag that they already own when they shop. Another reason to support a fee on paper is to help retailers in Maine recover the increased costs of switching from cheap plastic bags. We believe that exempting the bag fee from small, non-food stores in Maine is an acceptable provision that is appreciated by our main street businesses.
NRCM thanks the Committee for your thoughtful consideration of this important bill. Banning plastic shopping bags is one important step we can take to reduce plastic pollution and move away from single-use plastic convenience items. With your support our state can continue to lead the way on this important environmental issue. Please join us in supporting LD 1532, and I’d be happy to answer any questions that you have.
- Map of plastic bags found in the Gulf of Maine between the years 2013-2017, courtesy of the Blue Ocean Society;
- NRCM Fact Sheet on LD 1532
- NRCM tips to “Break-up with the Bag”
 Towns and cities with bag policies include (* indicates fee instead of ban): Portland*, South Portland*, Brunswick, Topsham, Camden, Rockport, Rockland, Bar Harbor, York, Falmouth*, Freeport, Kennebunk, Saco, Cape Elizabeth, Belfast, Bath, Manchester, Blue Hill, Damariscotta, Newcastle, Southwest Harbor, Waterville*, Biddeford
 Towns and cities considering bag regulations include: Augusta, Bethel, Biddeford, Ellsworth, Northeast Harbor, South Berwick, Tremont, Yarmouth
 Source: Plastics and Health: The Hidden Cost of a Plastic Planet pg. 37; https://www.ciel.org/reports/plastic-health-the-hidden-costs-of-a-plastic-planet-february-2019/
 As of 2018: 55 countries have a plastic bag ban; 36 countries have a partial ban.
 Better Alternatives Now 2.0 Report; https://static1.squarespace.com/static/5522e85be4b0b65a7c78ac96/t/5aa0618a8165f553aa68b8b8/1520631281665/5+Gyres+BAN+List2.pdf
 Under this proposal, plastic bags may still be purchased by people who wish to use them for lining garbage pails , collecting kitty litter, or other uses.
 According to the EPA’s 2009 Municipal Waste Characterization Study, the recycling rate for plastic HDPE films (plastic bags, sacks, & wraps) was 6.1%. Plastic bags are only a small portion of that.
 In 2009, under legislative directive, there was 14-member working group to explore creating a voluntary program, as opposed to a statewide ban or fee on disposable bags, which resulted in the Got Your Bags, Maine? Campaign, which was proven ineffective. When Portland was considering their ordinance in 2014, an NRCM volunteer visited 43 stores and found not a single one featured the Got your Bags campaign message.
 Source: Plastics and Health: The Hidden Cost of a Plastic Planet (Feb 2019) https://www.ciel.org/reports/plastic-health-the-hidden-costs-of-a-plastic-planet-february-2019/
 Source: Production, Use, and Fate of All Plastics Ever Made: https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/3/7/e1700782/tab-pdf
 California, New York and Hawaii (through county laws) all prohibit single-use plastic shopping bags Statewide