Retail group backs single-use plastic bags ban
AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — Maine could join a handful of states that have banned single-use bags as retailers who are growing weary from varying local bag bans call for consistency.
The Legislature began considering a Democrat’s proposal at a public hearing Wednesday morning.
Democratic Rep. Holly Stover’s bill aims to prohibit retailers from using single-use, carry-out bags at the check-out line by April 2020.
California and New York have also prohibited the use of plastic bags, while all of Hawaii’s counties have passed such a ban, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Maine’s bill comes as at least 20 of its municipalities — and all New England states including Massachusetts , Vermont and New Hampshire— also considering such bans.
Maine’s bill would allow retail stores to provide recyclable paper bags for at least 5 cents per bag at the check-out line. That fee wouldn’t apply to restaurants and stores with relatively few food sales, or to consumers who bring their own single-use plastic bags or use governmental food benefits.
Single-use bags are hard to recycle and take a thousand years to decompose, according to David Ayer, who is the campaign manager for the End Plastic Pollution at Earth Day Network.
“For a product that’s so easily replaceable, they cause an outsize amount of damage on the environment,” said Ayer, who praised Maine’s bill.
When thrown out or blown away, the bags can wind up in landfills, lakes and oceans, where marine animals such as turtles can mistake them for jellyfish. Plastic bags are commonly made out of low-density polyethylene and are increasingly ending up as floating marine debris that can sink and break up into smaller pieces, according to the Environmental Protection Agency .
The bill’s supporters include the Maine Department of Environmental Protection and the Retail Association of Maine, whose members are trying to make sense of varying local bag bans.
“The real driving reason is we’re asking for statewide consistency,” said Retail Association of Maine President and CEO Curtis Picard.
Similar efforts have previously failed in Maine, which is also considering banning the use of disposable foam food containers .
Maine’s bill has carve-outs for plastic bags used for newspapers, dry cleaning or loose produce.
But it drew some pushback from the Surfrider Foundation, which is leading efforts nationwide to pass plastic bag laws.
“We know that we cannot recycle our way out of this problem,” said Melissa Gates, the foundation’s northeast regional manager. She called for lawmakers to increase the paper bag fee to 25 cents and prevent thicker film plastic bags from qualifying as “reusable.”
A national industry group representing plastic bag manufacturers and recyclers warned that Maine’s bag ban could pave the way for reusable bags winding up in landfills. Such critics say consumers regularly re-use plastic bags to line trash cans or pick up pet waste.
“This is delivering a message about plastic, or single-use, and they’re picking a product,” said Matt Seaholm, executive director of the American Progressive Bag Alliance. “Unfortunately, it’s a product that’s heavily used, heavily re-used and the alternatives are not better for the environment.”
At least 127 countries have adopted legislation to regulate plastic bags, according to a 2018 United Nations report that says one to five trillion plastic bags are consumed worldwide each year.
The UN said it’s too early to draw conclusions about the environmental impact of such bans, which can suffer due to lack of enforcement and shifts to thicker plastic bags.