AUGUSTA — House lawmakers passed a bill Thursday that aims to decrease the use of disposable plastic bags and foam food containers but that opponents dismissed as unnecessary.

As originally introduced, the bill would have prohibited retailers from bagging products in single-use plastic bags starting in September 2020. But the bill was watered-down during the committee process in the face of opposition from grocery stores, retailers and the Maine Department of Environmental Protection. Instead, the new version of the bill, L.D. 57, would establish a statewide policy “to promote the use of reusable bags and locally recyclable alternatives to disposable polystyrene foam food service containers” by encouraging municipal-level regulations.

The amended bill – which passed the House on a largely party-line 78-68 vote – sets a goal of 20 municipalities adopting local ordinances discouraging the use of disposable plastic bags and foam food or drink containers by 2019. That goal would rise to 50 municipalities by 2029.

Several Maine municipalities have already adopted local ordinances on either plastic bags or polystyrene food containers, or both. In Portland, for instance, polystyrene containers are prohibited for take-out food and beverage cups, and customers pay 5 cents for every plastic or paper bag. Plastic bag bans have been adopted in York, Saco, Freeport, Brunswick and Kennebunk. And multiple other towns are debating similar policies.

Supporters argued the bill is consistent with Maine’s three-tiered waste policy – Reduce, Reuse and Recycle – and puts the state on record as aiming to decrease the use of products often blamed for littering streets and fouling waterways. Bill sponsor Rep. Mick Devin, D-Newcastle, said dozens of other countries and states have already enacted laws either banning plastic bags or imposing fees on their use as a way to encourage consumers to bring reusable shopping bags.

“How much longer will we wait to address plastic bags and polystyrene while our commercial fisheries and aquaculture, our recreational fisheries and our tourism (industries) … suffer from these ubiquitous and insidious plastics?” Devin asked.

Opponents, however, questioned the point of encouraging local ordinances that municipalities can – and already do – pass on their own.

Rep. Scott Walter Strom, R-Pittsfield, said the bill “does nothing.”

“Why do we need to pass a bill to allow towns to do something they are already able to do?” Strom said.

The bill will likely face additional skeptics in the Republican-controlled Senate. And even if it passes the Senate, the margin of victory in the House is not large enough to survive a likely veto from Gov. Paul LePage.

Kevin Miller can be contacted at 791-6312 or at:

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