Question: If plastic essentially lasts forever in the environment, why are we using it for single-use items that get used for a short period of time?
We are targeting single-use bags and expanded polystyrene (“Styrofoam”) food/beverage containers because: a) they are lightweight and blow into the environment; b) they are recycled at low rates in Maine (<3% plastic bags; 0% Styrofoam); and c) there are cost-competitive alternatives.
There have been some exciting developments of late…
- Topsham voters passed a 5-cent fee on carryout bags at food stores AND a ban on Styrofoam food containers. Both started on May 8, 2017.
- The Brunswick town council banned carryout plastic bags at ALL retail stores starting Sept. 1, 2017. The ban applies to plastic bags that are given out at checkout, but not the ones that are used within the store for fruit, vegetables, meat, seafood, nuts, etc. Exceptions are granted to newspapers and dry cleaners. Brunswick has had a ban on Styrofoam food containers for over a year now.
Although we are pleased the Brunswick Council is addressing waste from plastic bags, we are disappointed that nothing is being done about the waste from paper bags. Research from other communities shows that just banning plastic bags pushes consumers to using free paper bags, instead reusable bags, which are better for the environment in the long haul.
We feel a 5-cent fee on paper bags should be applied because while paper bags biodegrade over time, they cause more toxins and greenhouse gases than do plastic bags because of their greater bulk. A small fee on bags has been shown to effectively move shoppers into using reusable bags. And, should you be wondering, paper bags are not currently manufactured by any of Maine’s 6 existing mills.
Our preferred proposals entail:
- A 5-cent fee on single-use, carry-out plastic and paper bags, with retailers keeping the fee to offset the cost of bags that are distributed. There would be a one-year grace period for low-income families.
- A ban on expanded polystyrene (“Styrofoam”) for prepared foods and drinks, with an exception for raw or live seafood.