Single Use Plastic Bag Ban

In 2019, The Maine Legislature passed L.D. 1532, An Act To Eliminate Single-use Plastic Carry-out Bags, in an effort to reduce usage of single-use plastic carry-out bags and encourage the use of reusable bags, and thereby reduce plastic waste and litter. The bill was signed by the Governor on June 17, 2019.

The Department will begin enforcement of the law that bans these bags (38 M.R.S § 1611) as of July 1, 2021. The law went into effect April 22, 2020, however due to several concerns brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Department had twice delayed its enforcement.

All carry-out bags made available by a retailer to customers at the point-of-sale must either be a reusable bag or a recycled paper bag. In addition, retail establishments must charge a fee of at least 5-cents per carry-out bag.  Retail establishments include stores, restaurants, and temporary, seasonal, or pop-up businesses such as farmers markets, food trucks, or fairs where merchandise including food, goods, products, or clothing is sold. Some of these establishments are exempt from charging the 5-cent fee. A "frequently asked questions (pdf)" document, offers more details outlining what is considered a reusable bag and a recycled paper bag, who must charge the 5-cent fee, and other questions and answers.

As a retailer, what does this mean?

As a retailer, the option of providing carry-out bags for customers is up to you. If you choose to provide carry-out bags, they must meet the requirements outlined in the "FAQs (pdf)" of being either a recycled paper bag or a reusable bag. Single-use plastic carry-out bags banned by this law include recyclable or compostable, biodegradable, or biobased single-use plastic carry-out bags. Also, a minimum fee of 5 cents per bag must be charged. Additional details regarding acceptable bags, the 5-cent fee, and answers to other commonly asked questions can be found in the FAQs (pdf).

Some of the most common questions retailers have asked about this law are answered below:

Question: What happens to the bag fee money collected by retailers?
Answer: The bag fee funds are kept by the retailer to use for any legal purpose they see fit. It is not subject to sales tax, nor is it a refundable deposit.
Question: Can existing stock of single-use plastic bags be used up if purchased prior to July 1, 2021?
Answer: No, there is no provision in the law to use up existing stock after the law is in effect.
Question: Are compostable, biobased, or biodegradable single-use plastic carry-out bags acceptable substitutes?
Answer: No. All single-use plastic carry-out bags are prohibited under this law, regardless of whether those bags are made from petroleum or from biobased, biodegradable, or compostable plastic or plant-based materials.
Question: Are there exemptions for certain uses, like bags for produce, baked goods, raw or live animals, etc.?
Answer: Yes. There are exemptions that allow for proper collection or containment of products that might need additional wrapping or protection. Please reference the FAQs (pdf) for detailed information on these exemptions.

Retailers that continue to provide single-use plastic bags within the store for shoppers to collect loose unpackaged goods prior to purchase must serve as a public plastic bag recycling drop-off location for all plastic bags and film, including those provided by other stores. Specific details regarding allowable single-use plastic bags and plastic bag and film recycling drop-off location requirements are outlined in the FAQs (pdf).

Stores that wish to post a notice about this law for their customers may download a print-ready poster (pdf) file.

As a shopper, what does this mean?

The Department encourages shoppers to procure their own supply of reusable bags, as that is the intent of the law – to eliminate single-use carry-out bags and encourage consistent use of reusable bags.

Shoppers must remember it is up to the store to determine if they provide any carry-out bags, and if so, what type of bags they supply and how much they charge per bag. All stores with a few exceptions (See FAQs) are required to charge a minimum of 5-cents for each bag they provide a customer whether they are recycled paper bags or re-usable bags.

Some common question that residents have asked about this law are answered below:

Question: Why are stores handing out thicker plastic bags now that the single-use plastic bag ban is in effect?
Answer: The law allows retailers to hand out reusable bags, which may include a 4-mil (a mil is one-thousandth of an inch thick) plastic film bag. These bags may look like a slightly thicker "single-use" plastic bag, but they are made to be reused over and over again – and then recycled at your nearest participating retailer (see more on plastic bag and film recycling below).
Question: Where will I recycle my plastic bread bags, newspaper bags, etc., now that this ban is in effect?
Answer: The law requires retailers that provide single-use bags within the store such as produce, deli, and bakery items to serve as a public plastic bag recycling drop-off location for any recyclable plastic bags and film (including those from other retailers). Shoppers are encouraged to bring back plastic bags as well as the many other film plastics that can be recycled at these drop-off locations (see the full list of recyclable plastic bags and film below). Additional details regarding plastic drop-off location requirements are outlined in the FAQs (pdf).

If a store you shop from provides reusable bags, then reuse them! A reusable bag should be able to withstand a minimum of 75 repeated uses. However, most should last much longer. Using reusable bags prevents unnecessary waste and litter and conserves natural resources. Recycling bags and using bags made from recycled material is good, but reuse of bags is by far the best way to save energy and resources. Manufacturing a new bag, even from recycled materials, requires energy and use of resources for processing materials into new bags, as well as transportation to get those new bags from their production point to the store. Remember to clean the bags if they get soiled, as a store may refuse to fill your bag if it is not clean.

Plastic Bag and Plastic Film Recycling

Municipal recycling programs in Maine typically accept several types of plastic. Plastic containers used for products including milk, laundry detergent, shampoo, and dish soap are commonly accepted in curbside bins and at transfer stations. Municipal recycling programs usually do not accept thin, flexible plastics such as plastic bags and plastic film as the material can clog up the gears of machinery used to sort recyclable items. However, plastic bags and film are recyclable, and drop-off recycling bins are located throughout the state.

Where can I recycle plastic bags and film?

Many stores in Maine provide convenient locations to drop off your plastics recycling. When looking for the plastics recycling bin at your local store, check near the entrance. By law, retailers in Maine that offer any type of exempted single-use plastic bags for customers to bag products within the store such as produce, deli, or bakery items, flowers, plants, etc. must provide a receptacle to recycle plastic bags, either within the store or within 20 feet of the main entrance of the store. To find the nearest drop-off location for you, enter your zip code into the search box on Plastic Film Recycling's website.

What types of plastic film can I recycle?

Plastic bag recycling bins are not just for plastic shopping bags. Many types of thin, flexible plastic are accepted. An easy way to tell if a plastic film can go in the bin is to see if it is labeled with a #2 or #4. The important point to remember is that in order to be considered recyclable, all items must be EMPTY, CLEAN and DRY.

All the following items are OK to recycle in the plastic bag recycling bins located at retail stores:

recycle bin
  • Plastic grocery and retail bags
  • Produce bags
  • Plastic bubble mailers (paper label cut out) and air pillows (release the air)
  • Bread bags
  • Mattress bags
  • Furniture Wrap
  • Case over-wrap (found on diapers, toilet paper, etc.)
  • Dry Cleaning bags
  • Newspaper Sleeves
  • Ice bags
  • Pellet bags
  • Zip lock and other reclosable bags
  • Bubble Wrap
  • Salt bags
  • Cereal bags
  • Stretch film/pallet wrap

Some plastics require a bit of preparation before being placed in the recycling bin. For example, when recycling wood pellet bags, the top of the bag should be cut off completely, and the bag should be turned inside out and shaken thoroughly to ensure that the bag is empty. Plastic bags used to hold bread or other food items may also need to be shaken out to remove any crumbs. Mailers should have the paper labels cut out, and air pillows should have the air released. Please note that any film or bags labeled as compostable, pre-washed salad mix bags, and frozen food bags are NOT acceptable.

What are plastic films[1]

Film plastics are usually defined as any plastics that are less than 10mm in thickness. All of the plastic films listed above are low density polyethylene (LDPE) or high density polyethylene (HDPE). Some common examples of plastic films #2 and #4 are provided below.

LDPE#4 - Low Density Polyethylene: Unpigmented films have high clarity, moderate stretch & strength characteristics.

  • Bags (e.g., thicker newspaper bags, bread bags, pellet bags)
  • Bubble wrap

LLDPE#4 - Linear Low Density Polyethylene: Unpigmented films have moderate clarity, slightly tacky feel to the touch.

  • Stretch wrap
  • Bags (e.g. clear, thin newspaper bags)
  • Dry cleaning film
  • Agricultural films (silage bags, greenhouse films, wraps for hay bales)

MDPE#4 - Medium Density Polyethylene: Unpigmented films have moderate clarity, poor stretch and strength characteristics.

  • Consumer paper packaging (i.e. toilet paper, paper towel)
  • Note: MDPE is a variation on the production of LDPE and is often labeled #4. It’s generally used as an alternative to other resins in film applications where strength is not required.

HDPE#2 - High Density Polyethylene: Unpigmented films have some opacity, crinkle to the touch, low stretch, and can tear easily, high strength.

  • Most grocery bags
  • T-shirt bags
  • Bags with sealed air for packaging (e.g., air cushion)

[1] Descriptions of the types of film plastics taken from plasticfilmrecycling.org.