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April 24, 2019

Strong support voiced at Augusta hearing for statewide plastic-bag ban

Reusable grocery bag Courtesy / Natural Resources Council of Maine Proponents of LD 1532, An Act to Eliminate Single-use Plastic Carry-out Bags, say it would encourage greater use of reusable grocery bags. Globally, about 1 million plastic shopping bags are distributed per minute, and only 1% are recycled.
According to a fact sheet created by Natural Resources Council of Maine, scientists say that by 2050, there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish, ton for ton. Globally, about 1 million plastic shopping bags are distributed per minute, and only 1% are recycled.
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Maine lawmakers are considering the introduction of a statewide plastic-bag ban supported by retailers and environmental groups.

The measure, L.D. 1532, “An Act to Eliminate Single-Use Plastic Carry-Out Bags,” seeks to tackle the plastic pollution problem by banning the use of plastic shopping bags statewide and promoting recyclable paper bags at a minimum charge of a nickle a bag.

If the ban goes ahead, Maine would be the third state to do so after California and New York.

The bill is sponsored by state Rep. Holly Stover, D-Boothbay, who noted in a Wednesday news release that plastic bags are the fourth most commonly littered plastic item in the United States, and that Maine as a coastal state is a significant contributor to a global crisis.

“It is time our state steps up and demonstrates our ability to act as a leader for climate justice,” she said.

Support for the proposed ban remains strong as evidenced in written testimony to the Legislature's Environmental and Natural Resources Council, which held a public hearing Wednesday in Augusta. 

Out of 13 written submissions posted on the Committee website as of late Wednesday afternoon, nine were in support of the proposed statewide ban, two were opposed and two called for further amendments.

The bill was developed and supported by conservationists, grocers and retailers, including the Natural Resources Council of Maine, the Retail Association of Maine and the Maine Grocers & Food Producers Association.

Curtis Picard, president of the Retail Association of Maine, told Mainebiz last December that the organization is open to the idea of a statewide plastic-bag ordinance in place of the current hodgepodge of varying fees and bans in different communities, which poses a challenge to retailers operating out of more than one location.

Picard elaborated on that point in a news release this week, noting: “More than 20 Maine communities have some sort of bag ordinance, but there is quite a lot of inconsistency from community to community.” He added that since consumer behavior is adapting to those ordinance, it’s time for a statewide approach.

Opponents: Many retailers already switched to paper

Opponents to the statewide plastic-bag ban include the American Forest & Paper Association and the Renewable Bag Council, who argue in combined written testimony that consumers who are sensitive to environmental concerns choose paper bags, and that many retailers have already voluntarily transitioned to paper.

The Maine Heritage Policy Center is also against the proposed measure, contending that the bill would be harmful to consumers.

“Nickel and diming consumers and mandating prohibitions is the wrong approach to changing consumer behavior, and plastic bag bans are far from widely accepted,” it says in its submission, concluding: “L.D. 1532 may be well-intentioned, but it would do little for Maine people.”

Representing the country's plastic retail bag manufacturers, Matt Seaholm, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based American Progressive Bag Alliance, is also against the measure.

He argued at Wednesday's hearing that compared with reusable and paper bags, the traditional plastic retail bag has the smallest environmental footprint, and urged committee members "to think outside the typical bag ban toward better-tested solutions that are more equipped to advance environmental stewardship in Maine," according to prepared testimony shared with Mainebiz.

Mainebiz poll split down the middle 

An online poll conducted by Mainebiz on the proposed ban was split almost down the middle at mid-morning Thursday, with 101 votes in support and 97 against.

One respondent commented that "other countries are ahead of us in this, and once you get used to not getting plastic bags it isn't a problem."

Another expressed support for the plastic-bag ban but not for taxes or fees on paper bags, "which are recyclable and sustainable."

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