With a growing patchwork of local restrictions and the rising cost of improperly disposed-of bags, Maine may become one of the first states – and the first in New England – to ban single-use plastic bags. Even retailers who once opposed bans or fees on plastic bags say it may be time to consider a comprehensive state policy. “There will always be people who are challenged by change, but I do feel positive momentum on this issue,” Rep. Nicole Grohoski said.
Interest in banning single-use plastic bags or discouraging their use through fees has traditionally been driven by concerns about the environment, but financial concerns are increasingly part of the conversation. With a global price collapse for recycled material brought on by a Chinese ban on importing many types of waste – including paper mixed with plastic film and other contaminants – communities around the state are struggling to keep plastic bags out of their recyclables and, in some cases, paying fines when they don’t.
“The plastics issue is a huge one people are finally opening their eyes to,” said Sarah Lakeman, the Sustainable Maine project director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine. “A product that will never degrade shouldn’t be used for a purpose lasting only moments.”
Twenty towns and cities across Maine have enacted either outright bans or fees on plastic shopping bags and at least a half-dozen more are considering local ordinances. Many of those policies were approved in the two years since state lawmakers last considered a bill to ban plastic bags.
“It didn’t seem as ripe for action at that time,” Lakeman said. “Now that we have so many towns living with (policies), the landscape has changed.”
A recent survey by the Retail Association of Maine showed that nearly 65 percent of its members now support a ban or fee on plastic bags. That level of support does not surprise Curtis Picard, executive director of the association, because of the number of towns that already have local bans or fees.
“It’s getting to be more of a challenge for retailers that operate in more than one community. It seems each community feels the need to rewrite these ordinances from scratch,” he said. “We may be at the point where a statewide, comprehensive ordinance may be better for everybody.”