- Maine Gov. Janet Mills signed a bill Monday (LD 1532) that will ban single-use plastic bags across the state by April 22, 2020. Reusable plastic and paper bags will be permitted for at least $0.05 per bag.
- Shortly after, Vermont Gov. Phil Scott signed a bill (S.113) that will ban single-use plastic bags by July 1, 2020 and require a fee of at least $0.10 for paper bags. Reusable bags will be encouraged as an alternative.
- In addition, Vermont's law goes a step farther by banning polystyrene foam containers, plastic stirrers and plastic straws (with certain disability-related exceptions) in what has been described as the "toughest" and most expansive state plastics policy yet.
These two developments bring the tally of states with official plastic bag bans up to four, including California and New York. Counting Hawaii, which has bag bans in every county, the total reaches five. Pending expected approval in states such as Connecticut, Delaware and Oregon — as well as ongoing efforts elsewhere — that number can be expected to rise within the next month.
Canada's government announced plans for its national plastics policy last week — a development precipitated by rising cultural attention to the environmental effects of plastics production, as well as pollution from potential mismanagement.
Another element is the growing number of local policies in certain states that have started to become compliance headaches for retailers.
In Maine, 25 municipalities — including Portland, the state's largest city — have passed some form of ban or fee on plastic bags. This new law's creation of a uniform statewide policy has attracted support from food and retail trade groups. Advocates are hoping a similar approach will work in nearby Massachusetts, where the tally of municipal policies (including in Boston) is approaching 120.
Policies still differ between states. Maine's bill, for instance sets tighter parameters than Vermont's regarding post-consumer recycled content in paper bags and the definition of reusable plastic bags. Even so, the broader intent around reducing consumption of not just plastics, but single-use products in general, is communicated through the language.
Both states are also on the path to addressing broader questions of consumption and materials management.
Gov. Mills has signed a law directing Maine's Department of Environmental Protection to develop legislation around extended producer responsibility (EPR) for packaging by Dec. 16. The new bill signed by Gov. Scott also establishes a "Single-Use Products Working Group" which, among other areas, will include a focus on EPR. The group will submit a report to Vermont's General Assembly by Dec. 1.
Based on experiences to enact packaging EPR in other states, these efforts may prove more challenging than passing bans on select products comprising a relatively small fraction of the waste stream.