Ban the Bag, Maine!

Loss | May 16 2017

Plastic Pollution

The Maine Chapter worked with our Northeast Regional Manager to support the passage of LD 57, an act that was originally slated to phase out the use of single-use plastic shopping bags in the state of Maine.

LD 57, introduced by Maine State House Representative Mick Devin of Newcastle, originally would have prohibited Maine retailers from distributing single-use plastic bags at the point of retail sale. If it had passed as drafted, the act would have taken effect on September 1, 2020, banning plastic bags but unfortunately allowing retailers to provide recyclable paper bags for free, which would have shifted the pollution problem from one place to another rather than urging a consumer paradigm shift from single-use to sustainable use.

In addition to banning single-use plastic bags, the original bill would have done these good things: require that every retailer make reusable bags available for purchase, and change existing law regarding retailer collection and recycling of used plastic bags to better ensure consistency with the implementation of this plastic bag bag.

Our Northeast Regional Manager offered testimony on behalf of the Maine Chapter calling for specific amendments to strengthen the bill. You can give us a shout to get more involved in our plastics pollution mitigation work in Maine, and check out our our spoken & written testimony.

The public hearing before the Environment and Natural Resources Committee was on January 25th, 2017, at 10AM in the Cross Building, Room 216 (map). We're stoked to report that nearly 3x as many Mainers spoke in favor of this legislation, than against.

The work session was held on February 1, with a result of a divided Ought to Pass as Amended report in both the majority and minority, with differing amendments, both incorporating a threshold 'trigger' aspect for the bill to take effect.

While the Committee analyst worked to draft the amendments and reports, the Surfrider Foundation sought clarification on the threshold amendment that as would have, if passed by the full legislature, institute a 'trigger' effect that would only kick the bill into effect after more than 50% of Maine's 432 municipalities have passed local legislation regulating single-use bags. The problem in logic that we noted to the Committee is that not all of Maine's towns have retail outlets, and therefore not all Maine towns should be included in this threshold equation, because not all Maine towns have a basis for implementing single-use bag regulations. We asked the Committee to direct its analyst to exclude Maine municipalities that do not have retail outlets from the threshold equation, or to consider a threshold based upon population rather than number of towns.

We additionally asked the Committee to direct its policy analyst to incorporate a section that would enable municipalities with existing single-use bag regulations to opt-in to the state law, should the threshold ever be met, so that the bad policy created in the state law as it is written will not simply nullify local regs that are properly oriented for mitigating pollution associated with single-use bags, and ushering forth a shift in the consumer paradigm from single-use to reusable.

However, further deliberation on the OTPA reports coming divided out of the Committee was entertained in a subsequent work session on February 27th, beginning at 1PM.

The result of the February 27 second work session was a divided report, with the majority calling for LD57 to be significantly amended and then combined with LD103, an act to prohibit the use of certain disposable polystyrene containers, which we also worked this session. View the amended combo bill here.

Unfortunately, the amended bill does little more than create a policy with zero teeth that states, "Consistent with the State's waste management policies set forth in section 1302, it is the policy of the State to promote the use of reusable bags and locally recyclable alternatives to disposable polystyrene foam food service containers as a way for consumers to help reduce waste caused by disposable plastic bags and disposable polystyrene foam food service containers."

The bill's section 6 simply combines existing state law into this new law; existing law already outlines requirements for stores that offer plastic bags to also provide receptacles for customers to return them for recycling. However, in the framing, the requirement is marginalized by a new section removing any responsibility of the Department in monitoring or enforcing compliance, "The department shall enforce this subsection in accordance with section 347-A but is not required to inspect places, buildings or premises governed by this subsection and is not required to track or otherwise monitor retailer compliance with this subsection.’"

The amended version of the bill passed both the House (April 13) and Senate (April 20), by slim margins (see how your Senator and House Rep voted - and consider emailing them a note!). However, Maine Governor LePage returned the bill to the legislature, together with objections to the same pursuant to the provisions of the Constitution of the State of Maine, the House proceeded to vote on the question: "Shall this Bill become a law notwithstanding the objections of the Governor?" With 73 having voted in the affirmative and 70 in the negative, with 6 being absent, and 2 excused, the Governor's veto was unfortunately sustained (Maine law requires 2/3 majority of both chambers' members who are present for the vote to overturn the Governor's veto. See how YOUR electeds voted here, and consider sending an email of thanks to the yays or concern to the nays/absent/excused!). So on May 16th, this bill was killed by veto of Governor LePage.

All in all, this was not a bad bill and while our specific amendments were not adopted, we considered its passage a victory as the bill set forth general consensus on encouraging the use of reusable and recyclable materials. Additionally, we were highly concerned that the original bill, which would have banned single-use plastic bags but allowed paper to be distributed for free, would have set bad precedent that other states might have followed. We'l;l be back before the Maine State Legislature on this issue again, with a better bill & hopefully, YOUR support!

A big THANK YOU goes out to our Maine State legislators who championed this effort, especially Rep. Mick Devin. Getting this bill passed would have been no small feat in a normal legislative session, but was quite remarkable in the current political climate. While the Governor ultimately killed the bill, Surfrider is looking forward to continuing to work with Rep. Devin and others on this issue, down the road.

We are certain to see both the bag and polystyrene issues introduced again in subsequent legislatures, where you can rest assured that the Surfrider Foundation will be at the ready to support.

For reference, here are the asks we made on the original bill to ban plastic bags:

  • Support for the bill's definition of "reusable bag" that requires the product to be machine washable (rather than meet a certain thickness level, like 3 or 4 ml, which studies prove does NOT work to curb using the checkout bags once), but requesting an amendment of the definition to remove the exception for these bags to alternatively be "made of durable plastic." This amendment would help ensure that thicker plastic bags are not used in a single-use manner, which we're seeing in places that allow thicker bags but do NOT require a fee for those bags or require them to be machine washable;
  • A mandatory, minimum fee on all reusable bags dispersed at point of sale, which curbs use of these bags as single-use and further incentivizes reusable bag use, while allowing for fancier reusable bags (organic cotton, for example) to carry a higher cost than cheaper bags;
  • A mandatory, uniform fee on all paper bags dispersed at point of sale, which levels the playing field for small stores by requiring the SAME/UNIFORM fee for big and small stores. This uniform fee also incentivizes the use of reusable bags rather than shifting the consumer convenience from one source of needless pollution to another (plastic to paper). A uniform fee on paper bags IN TANDEM with a ban on plastic bags are critical components for ushering forth the shift in consumer paradigm from single-use to reusable;
  • Tightening the effective date from 2020 to 2018;
  • Incorporating an enforcement mechanism to better ensure compliance; and
  • Incorporating punitive measures for noncompliance.

Not sure why plastic bags are a detriment to the marine environment? Check out these information pages for more info (also a great source for talking points for your written or spoken testimony!):

You can also volunteer with our chapter and join/renew your membership to BEST support our work in Maine.


Plastic Pollution

Rise Above Plastics is designed to eliminate the impacts of plastics in the marine environment by raising awareness about the dangers of plastic pollution and by advocating for a reduction of single-use plastics and the recycling of all plastics.

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