SOUTHWEST HARBOR —Starting July 1, single-use plastic bags will no longer be offered by restaurants or grocery, retail and convenience stores. Southwest Harbor Food Mart Manager Robin Mason says they are ready.
“Just like we did last time, we have the paper bags coming back in and we have the reusable ones,” she said, referring to when Gov. Janet Mills signed a bill to eliminate single use plastic bags by April 2020.
When COVID-19 changed everything a couple of weeks before that deadline, most stores kept using the single-use plastic bags and the state pushed the deadline to July 1.
“As far as COVID goes, it was good to have them back again because of the health part,” said Mason, adding that people switching to reusable bags still need to be mindful of spreading germs. “I’m hoping that people know that, hey, I’ve got to keep them clean because I’m not the only one touching them.”
Purchasing reusable bags continued to be an option in many stores during the pandemic, it just wasn’t always an option to bring them back to the store to use again. Although Mason has made changes around the food mart to comply with the new bill, she said some customers are unhappy with the change because they reuse the plastic bags.
“People do use them over and over again, like (for) garbage bags,” she explained.
Local customers of Hulls Cove General Store also are in the habit of reusing the plastic bags, but owner Jason Ventry says he is happy to be making the switch.
“I hate plastic bags; I’d much rather use paper bags,” he said on Wednesday in a conversation with the Islander. “Lots of people reuse the (plastic) bags. We have tons of people that bring them back in all the time.”
According to information provided on the state’s department of environmental protection website, “retailers may still provide single-use plastic bags within the store for shoppers to collect loose, unpackaged goods prior to purchase, such as produce, deli and bakery items. However, stores that provide single-use plastic bags for this purpose must serve as a public plastic bag recycling drop-off location for all plastic bags and film, including those provided by other stores.”
What is important to note about this ban is the single-use part, which refers to plastic bags that are less than 4-mils (a mil is a thousandth of an inch) thick. If a plastic bag is thick enough to carry at least 18 pounds of material and can be reused, it passes muster. The law also requires paper carry-out bags that can carry 8 pounds or more to contain at least 20 percent post-consumer recycled content, according to David Madore, the deputy commissioner of the Maine Department of Environmental protection.
For businesses like the food mart and the general store, plastic bags typically cost less than paper alternatives. Mason spends 3 cents for the single-use plastic bags and 11 cents for the paper bags.
The law also states, “In addition, retail establishments must charge a fee of at least 5 cents per carry-out bag for recycled paper bags and reusable bags made of plastic.” Mason says the food mart will avoid doing this as long as it can.
While Ventry is making the change to paper bags, he said finding them has been difficult as the date of the ban gets closer.
“I know we’ve got to be done with plastic bags on July 1,” he said, explaining how he has been unable to order a lot of paper bags because of problems within the supply chain. “We’re using both right now.”
For Ventry and his employees, the tough part is educating people who are traveling here from other states where there are different standards for recycling, reuse and returnables.
“There needs to be a federal standard for recycling,” he said. “The reality is, how many people across the state will keep using plastic bags? I’d rather use paper because I’d rather keep Mainers employed.”
To learn more about the ban, go to maine.gov/dep/waste/recycle/plastic-bag-film.html.