In 2019, Maine’s 129th Legislature voted to ban single-use plastic bags and polystyrene containers – a step in the right direction toward removing nonbiodegradable materials from the waste stream. But, as soon as the pandemic hit, implementation was pushed back as part of executive measures to respond to COVID-19. At nearly the same time, shoppers were told they could no longer bring reusable cloth bags into grocery stores for fear of transmitting the virus. This was a lose-lose for the environment as each shopper leaves a store with between one and 20 plastic bags, on average, per visit.
The politicians of that legislative class were lauded for not only the state-wide bag ban but for also being first in the nation to implement a ban on polystyrene foam food containers (also known by the brand name Styrofoam). Maine’s delegation showed the utmost respect for its most vital resources, its land and ocean, with its vote to keep those toxic substances from polluting the natural environment. Just ask a fisherman and they will tell you how much Styrofoam and plastic they find while out at sea.
Now, after two delays to the implementation of the laws, both go into effect today, July 1. There will be some businesses, such as dry cleaners and pet stores, that will still be allowed to use single-use plastic bags for items such as clean clothing and live fish but for the most part plastic will be gone from checkout counters statewide.
Under the law, retailers may offer recyclable paper bags or reusable plastic ones as long as they charge at least 5 cents per bag. Some stores, such as Walmart, are going a step further and will no longer be offering bags of any kind at the checkout.
As for polystyrene, restaurants will no longer be able to package to-go food in such containers, but new rules do exempt raw meats, poultry, eggs and seafood until July 1, 2025. As of that date, all food and beverage products sold in Maine, “whether packed out of state or not, cannot be packaged in polystyrene foam.”
We understand this is a significant change to the way people shop, but we hope it will make them more aware of the plastic in their lives. We urge people to stop and think about what they are consuming daily and to find ways to reduce their plastic use. We know that some plastic is necessary but opt out of plastic cutlery when you get takeout food to bring home, skip the plastic straw and don’t grab a plastic bag for one avocado in the produce aisle of your local grocery store. The environment will thank you.