AUGUSTA — The Maine House gave initial approval Thursday to a bill that would ban single-use plastic shopping bags statewide.

The legislation, which gained bipartisan support in a 91-52 vote, will next go to the Senate for additional votes.

The bill requires most large retailers, including grocers, to replace single-use plastic bags with paper and charge at least 5 cents for each bag. Retailers also would have the option of using plastic bags that are at least 4 mils thick, which are considered reusable. A mil is one-thousandth of an inch.

Opponents argued that the bill would result in more, not less, plastic going into the environment because the 4-mil bags are thicker and therefore contain more material.

But supporters contended that Maine, with its long coastline and economic dependence on the ocean, needs to lead on the issue and join other states, like California, which banned single-use plastic shopping bags in 2016.

“The health of our marine life is essential to the industries that drive our economy in Maine,” said Rep. Holly Stover, D-Boothbay. “And yet, our own pollution is putting that marine life at risk. We frequently allow plastic bags to end up in our coastal waters.”


Twenty-four Maine cities and towns, including Portland, have enacted ordinances banning single-use bags or requiring stores to charge a fee for them, in an effort to reduce their use. Proponents said retailers want a single statewide law, as businesses that operate in multiple locations are now facing a confusing array of different ordinances.

Maine’s largest retailers, including the state grocers’ association, support the bill out of a desire to obtain consistent treatment.

Backers of the bill also include some of Maine’s largest environmental advocacy organizations.

“A statewide ban will deliver the consistency that retailers, grocers, and businesses are asking for, and continue Maine’s ethic of responsibly taking care of our land, air and water for all to enjoy,” Sarah Lakeman, the Sustainable Maine Director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine, said in a statement following the vote.

Portland was the first Maine city to pass an ordinance that attempted to encourage consumers to use reusable shopping bags by requiring grocery and convenience stores to charge a 5-cent fee for any paper or plastic bag.

Maine would join California, Hawaii and New York, which enacted its ban earlier this year, in prohibiting the use of the bags, which environmentalists say make up a large chunk of the plastic pollution going into the environment, especially the oceans.

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