Plastic Bag, Polystyrene Container Ban to Start in Portland, Maine

It's the last day for free plastic bags and polystyrene containers in Portland, Maine.

Starting Wednesday, grocery stores will charge customers five cents for each bag. Businesses using certain foam containers will be subject to a $250 fine. It's part of an environmentally-friendly ordinance that city councilors approved months ago.

The new policy makes Portland the first community in Maine, and one of the few communities in New England, to adopt a penalty for plastic bags and an outright ban of polystyrene.

Ahead of the ordinance change, businesses and consumers are stocking up on reusable shopping bags and making the switch to different foam packaging.

Dunkin Donuts has come out with a new coffee cup. Instead of polystyrene, it's made of a more expensive material called polypropylene.

Several Portland business owners declined to do interviews, but said the switch to polypropylene or paper packaging has been expensive.

"They might cost a little bit more, but in terms of the environment, they're much more friendly," said Troy Moon, Portland Director of Environmental Programs.

In the weeks leading up to the new ordinance, Hannaford in Portland has been giving out free reusable shopping bags. A spokesperson for the grocery chain said the store has given out more than 100,000 reusable bag to customers.

Environmental groups, such as the Friends of Casco Bay, think other communities will follow Portland's lead, and limit use of plastic and foam.

"I think this is a wave that we're going to continue to see swell, and move across not just Maine, but the country," said Cathy Ramsdell, executive director of Friends of Casco Bay.

Tuesday night, the town of Freeport will be considering a similar ban on plastic bags. Freeport has already banned polystyrene.

People grocery shopping in Portland Tuesday had mixed opinions on the new initiative.

"I think it's great," said Hannaford shopper David Savage. "I think it's a minimal fee for keeping the dumps free."

Others worried that the five cent fee on bags will add up, and hurt low-income shoppers.

"It's going to be tough for some people to pay for it," said Hannaford shopper, Ginny Greenlaw.

Clifford Small, shopping at a smaller downtown market, said his opposition is more about convenience than cost.

"No one wants to carry bags in their pockets when they're out having a good time," said Small.  

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