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If the July 1 start to Maine’s ban on single-use plastic bags snuck up on you, you’re not alone.
We have to admit that, after two different delays in the implementation of this new(ish) law, we had lost track of the start date. So for anyone in the same boat, it’s worth a reminder: As of July 1, stores and restaurants in Maine won’t be able to provide customers with single-use plastic bags. Single-use bags are defined in part by how thick they are. BDN Editorial Cartoonist Goerge Danby recently drew a helpful reminder, as well.
This new state enforcement means that carry-out bags at the point of sale must be reusable or recycled paper. There are some exceptions built into the law, like pharmacy bags used to transport prescriptions, bags used inside retail locations by customers to package things like fruit, newspaper bags, laundry or dry cleaning bags, and a handful of others. In addition, establishments will be required to charge a fee of at least 5-cents for all carry-out bags that they provide to customers, regardless of whether those are paper or reusable plastic bags.
This will feel new for many customers, at least those who haven’t already been living in a town with its own municipal plastic bag ban. But despite our being caught off guard by the impending start date for enforcement of the statewide ban, the truth is that this has been a long time coming. It might be one of the slowest moving surprises we’ve experienced.
That’s because the Legislature passed the law banning single-use plastic bags back in 2019. It was originally set to take effect in April of 2020. Its enforcement was first delayed in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, with plastic bags determined to be essential workers of sorts amid concerns about virus transmission. There was a second delay related to supply chain disruption for packaging production, also tied to the pandemic.
There won’t be a third delay, however. Anyone looking for more details about the plastic bag ban should consult a helpful June 23 explainer from the BDN’s Sam Schipani. It has more specifics about which bags are covered in the ban, new recycling stations that some retailers will have to provide for plastic bags, and different options for customers.
“The law bans single-use plastic carry-out bags, which includes any thin-film plastic bags less than 4 mils [thousandths of an inch] thick and also requires that paper carry-out bags designed to carry 8 pounds or more contain at least 20 percent post-consumer recycled content,” David Madore, deputy commissioner of the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (Maine DEP), told Schipani.
Additionally, the Maine DEP has Q&A-style guidance about the single use, carry-out plastic bag ban on the state website. A similar set of guidance exists for the forthcoming (and also previously delayed) state ban on polystyrene foam food service containers, more commonly referred to as Styrofoam, for which enforcement is slated to start July 1 as well.
After multiple delays, these new plastic bag and foam container bans are taking effect. So don’t forget your reusable bags when you go to the grocery store, don’t be surprised when you have to pay at least 5 cents for a paper bag, and don’t expect to see too many foam food containers (again, with some exceptions).
Regardless of whether customers or businesses supported these new laws when the Legislature debated them, they’ve actually been law now for some time — and as of July 1, they’re being enforced.