ELLSWORTH — A statewide ban on single-use plastic carry-out bags scheduled to go into effect Jan. 15, 2021, and the polystyrene foam disposable food service container ban scheduled to go into effect Jan.1, 2021, have been delayed due to the pandemic.
The Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has announced it is delaying enforcement of the laws that ban the use of these products until July 1, 2021.
In making the decision, the DEP noted how COVID-19 has disrupted traditional food marketing and packaging supplies. Demand for groceries, curbside pickup and takeout food has increased, while the demand for paper bags and thicker reusable plastic bags has also increased. This has lowered the supply of both 4 mil reusable plastic bags and paper bags — the substitutes allowed for single-use plastic carry-out bags under the bag law. Additionally, due to concerns over possible virus transmission, many retailers have asked customers not to bring reusable bags from home, moving consumers back to store-supplied single-use bags.
The pandemic is also causing a similar disruption with alternatives to polystyrene foam disposable food service containers that fall under the ban. In addition to a disruption in available packaging supplies, COVID-19 safety protocols have led to greater caution with handling of food and beverages and increased demand for disposable food service ware. Schools, homeless shelters and other groups are providing more food in disposable packaging than before the pandemic.
“The delay in enforcement of these bans is not intended to downplay the importance of eliminating single-use plastic carry-out bags and polystyrene foam disposable food service containers from the waste stream, but rather to address current concerns related to impacts of the pandemic,” according to the DEP.
Mainers who use single-use plastic carry-out bags and polystyrene foam disposable food service containers are encouraged to use this additional time to focus on finding alternatives to these products and on depleting current stocks before the July 1, 2021, enforcement date.
The department previously delayed the statewide prohibition on single-use plastic carry-out bags from its effective date of April 22.
More information regarding the plastic bag ban and the polystyrene foam food service container ban can be found on the department’s website at https://www.maine.gov/dep/waste/recycle/plastic-bag-film.html and https://www.maine.gov/dep/waste/recycle/polystyrene-foam.html.