Maine third state in the nation to ban the use of single-use plastic shopping bags



By Ramona du Houx

A recent study found that of all the plastics ever made, 79 percent currently exist in landfills or in our rivers, lakes and oceans. Pieces of plastic have been found in every corner of the planet, from Pyrenees alpine lakes to the deepest ocean trenches, ingested by sea turtles and humans alike.

On June 17,2019 Maine became the third state in the nation to ban the use of single-use plastic shopping bags statewide. The move comes shortly after the state became the first in the nation to ban polystyrene foam food containers.

LD 1532 was a collaborative bill sponsored by Representative Holly Stover (D-Boothbay) and supported by conservationists, grocers, and retailers who worked together to craft a consistent, statewide approach for reducing pollution caused by single-use plastic bags while promoting reusable shopping bags.

“Today we took an important step towards protecting the wildlife and landscapes that support Maine’s economy,” said Rep. Stover. “With the Governor’s signature on this bill, we will be limiting the plastic bags that enter our coastal waters and protecting the health of our marine life.”

The legislation prohibits a retail establishment from using single-use plastic carry-out bags at the point of sale. As an alternative, businesses may offer customers paper bags, however, grocers and large retailers must charge a minimum five cent fee per bag. This law would exempt certain bags, including bags for produce, prescription drugs, newspapers, laundry and live animals, such as fish. 

“Not only does this law solve an immediate problem of plastic bag pollution, it helps train Mainers to be better stewards of the environment,” said Rep. McCrea. “We all need to think twice about what we waste and how that impacts our world. Our future generations deserve nothing less than our best efforts to protect the environment that they will inherit.”

The new law goes into effect on Earth Day — April 22, 2020.

Maine joins California and New York in banning single-use plastic bags statewide. Hawaii effectively bans plastic shopping bags statewide through a combination of county-wide laws. Twenty-five Maine cities and towns—home to more than 21 percent of the state’s population—have already passed ordinances to limit single-use plastic shopping bags. 

“All across Maine people are saying no to plastics,” said Sarah Lakeman, NRCM Sustainable Maine Director. “This new law is a testament to the power that local people have in creating systematic change. It reflects the deeply held value that Mainers place on our natural environment and the communities it supports.”

Globally, about one million plastic shopping bags are distributed per minute. Plastic bag pollution continues to kill birds, turtles, whales, and other animals who mistake them for food or get entangled causing slow deaths around the world.

Single-use plastic bags are also increasingly a costly issue for Maine’s towns. If they are mistakenly placed in recycling bins they can often jam equipment and are considered contamination, which causes recycling loads to be rejected. The littered plastic bags are also expensive to clean out of trees, fences, and storm drains.