Maine's plastic bag bill faces criticism for doing too little

Dive Brief:

  • Last week, Maine's House of Representatives voted 78-68 in favor of a bill that would encourage the availability of reusable bags and discourage the use of polystyrene foam food containers, as reported by the Portland Press Herald.
  • The bill, L.D. 57, was originally written to ban select retailers from giving out plastic bags by September 2020. That was changed during the committee process to set the goal of at least 20 municipalities having ordinances that promote reusable bags and cut back on polystyrene containers by the end of of 2019. That would grow to 35 by the end of 2024 and 50 by the end of 2029.
  • The original bill faced opposition from retailers and the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, but the new version is still unpopular because some legislators say it will be ineffective. The bill is expected to face resistance in the Maine State Senate and could be vetoed by Governor Paul LePage.

Dive Insight:

Despite the bill being watered down, its sponsor said putting these goals on the record as state policy is still important. Along with the municipal goals the bill also includes a requirement for the DEP to begin issuing an annual report on progress starting in 2020 and has a provision for retailers that do provide plastic bags to make recycling options accessible in their stores. According to a fiscal analysis, this would only lead to a "minor cost increase" that could be addressed in DEP's existing budget.

Multiple municipalities in the state already have ordinances that place bans or fees on certain categories of plastic bags. Portland, the state's largest city, has had a 5-cent fee on paper and plastic bags since 2015. The nonprofit ecomaine, which handles a large portion of refuse and recyclables in the southern part of the state, has also been working with member communities to keep plastic bags out of the material they collect. Whether a state-approved goal would help encourage these municipalities or ones in other parts of the state to enact new ordinances is hard to predict.

Though a growing number of Northeast municipalities have either considered or adopted bag ordinances, no statewide policies have been implemented. New York's governor recently established a task force to assess a statewide bag policy after allowing New York City's plan for 5-cent fee to be canceled. State legislators in Vermont are currently considering multiple bills and efforts continue to reach a critical mass of municipal ordinances that could catalyze state action in Massachusetts.

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Filed Under: Regulation Waste Diversion
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