Since July 01, 2021 shopping has seemed a bit different here in Maine. Seemingly overnight, it seemed like everyone everywhere here in Maine went from “Wear your mask!” to “Remember your bags!” I was made aware of this my first time at the register of the grocery store sometime earlier this past July. It seemed that many shoppers, including myself, seemed to be some combination of confused/annoyed as this new law went into effect.
After some quick research on my phone in the car after cashing out, I learned that this new law was scheduled to go into effect a year ago; as the Maine Legislature passed a ban on plastic bags in 2019 and it was initially scheduled to go into effect in April 2020. Due to the pandemic, it has been delayed twice— first, due to sanitation concerns, and then again due to pandemic-related supply chain disruptions on packing supplies.
States have a long history of pursuing legislation related to labeling, recycling, and reusing plastic bags. Reducing bag use can mitigate harmful impacts to oceans, rivers, lakes, forests and the wildlife that inhabit them. It can also relieve pressure on landfills and waste management. While some states are focusing on implementing effective recycling programs, others have imposed fees or bans to discourage the use of plastic bags altogether.
A total of eight states—California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, New York, Oregon and Vermont—have banned single-use plastic bags.
In 1991, Maine became the first state to enact legislation requiring recycling efforts at retail stores. The law prevents retailers from supplying plastic bags unless they provide a convenient storefront receptacle to ensure used bags are collected and recycled.
Maine Plastic Bag Regulation:
Retailers may only provide customers with plastic bags if there is a receptacle to collect used plastic bags within 20 feet of the entrance and all plastic bags collected are then recycled.
Maine 2010 Convenes a workgroup, through a partnership with state agencies and other appropriate entities, to work towards a viable solution to the checkout bag issue to achieve environmental benefits, maintain financial viability for manufacturers and retailers and avoid cost impacts, and provides a report to the legislature.
Maine 2021 Prohibits a retail establishment from providing single-use carryout bags at the point of sale or otherwise making the bags available to customers, with exemptions for certain types and uses of plastic and paper bags.
Aside from the exemptions, all carry-out bags made available by a retailer to customers at the point-of-sale must either be a reusable bag (thicker plastic bags meet this requirement) or a recycled paper bag, no matter whether the establishment is a store or restaurant or a temporary food truck or farmers market stand.
-Additionally, establishments must charge a fee of at least 5-cents per carry-out bag allowed under the new law, both paper and plastic.-
Some single-use plastic bags are exempt from the new law, including plastic bags provided by pharmacies for carrying medication, produce bags, deli bags, bakery bags, bags used to wrap flowers or potted plants, garment bags for dry cleaning, bags used for vehicle tires, bags used to carry fish and insects from pet stores and bags used to transport caustic chemicals.
Establishments including hunger relief organizations like food pantries and soup kitchens as well as stores with “less than 2 percent of retail sales attributed to the sale of food and less than 10,000 square feet of retail area,” are exempt from charging the 5-cent bag fee.
New recycling stations
Municipal recycling programs usually do not accept thin, flexible plastics such as plastic bags as the material can clog up machinery used to sort recyclables. However, plastic bags and film are recyclable.
This bill also stipulates that retail establishments providing exempted single-use plastic bags, such as produce bags, must also serve as a public plastic bag recycling drop-off location.
The new recycling stations aren’t just for plastic shopping bags, either. You can also put in plastic bubble mailers with the paper label cut out, air pillows that come in packages, bread bags, mattress bags, furniture wrap, case over-wrap found on diapers, toilet paper and similar products, dry cleaning bags, newspaper sleeves, ice bags, pellet bags and more. Thicker plastic bags — the kind that are permitted by the law and cost five cents apiece — can also be recycled at the end of their lives.
For now here in Maine, shoppers face either remembering to bring their own reusable bags or purchasing available bags at the register.