FALMOUTH — Recent talks on reinstating the plastic bag fee in Falmouth were canceled after state officials reached out to the Town Council.

A new state law, coming into effect Jan. 15, 2021, “was intended to entirely preempt any municipal regulation of shopping bags,” Council Chair Amy Kuhn said, meaning the town ordinance was no longer enforceable. After the Sept. 8 Forecaster story “Falmouth Council looks to recycle ban on plastic bags,” the state asked Falmouth to drop the conversation, Kuhn said.

“I understand we are in an emergency situation. Given that much thought is being given to school sports, I think it is time for the state to discuss and hopefully reinstate the plastic bag ban for the state. If people are really worried about using their own bags then they can opt for biodegradable paper bags,” resident Susan Hall said, one of the first advocates for the plastic bag ban in 2014.

The council, at the request of Hall, was going to look at reinstating their fee from now until the state law takes effect, but according to the Maine Environmental Protection Agency, “As of March 17, 2020, State law preempts municipal regulation of single use bags; no local ordinance requiring a fee for, or otherwise restricting the use of, single use bags is in effect.”

In April 2020, the state had been set to institute the bag ban, but held off on the change until January 2021, after the COVID-19 pandemic caused most grocery stores to stop using reusable bags amid fears they could transmit COVID-19. Falmouth at the time also suspended its restriction, but advocates say that reusable bags are no longer considered a risk.

“Given the environmental and ecological impact of new plastic bags and the impact that can have on the environment, I think there is good reason for folks when people start going back and when they are grocery shopping and going out for shopping to use their own reusable cloth or heavy duty plastic bags,” Maine CDC director Dr. Nirav Shah said at the Aug. 6 briefing, which Hall quoted.

Efforts in Falmouth to lessen the use of plastic bags took root in 2014, when Hall and other residents reached out to the town about their concerns. With the statewide ban, stores can still charge 5 cents for paper or plastic bags, which can get 75 repeated uses and are made from heavier plastic.

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