Friday, March 28, 2008

Reusable bags urged for Maine shoppers

Portland Press Herald
March 28, 2008

State House: Lawmakers join the effort to cut down on plastic, but it's still just voluntary.

By GLENN ADAMS The Associated Press March 28, 2008

AUGUSTA — Maine lawmakers are urging consumers to do their bit to help the environment by bringing reusable shopping bags when they go to the grocery store.

The Senate passed a nonbinding order Thursday, a day after the House took similar action. Sponsors said it's modeled after a request in New Hampshire and that a similar effort is catching on in Vermont.

By environmentalists' estimate, 500 billion to 1 trillion plastic bags are produced annually worldwide. In the United States alone, millions of barrels of oil are consumed each year making and transporting the bags, yet millions end up in landfills, lakes, streams and along roadsides.

Some cities have passed or are considering bans on plastic bags and some European countries charge fees for them, as an earlier proposal in Maine sought. The order that's been approved by the Legislature instead takes a voluntary approach, said its chief sponsor, Rep. Theodore Koffman.

"It's not just a token thing," said Koffman, D-Bar Harbor, who co-chairs the Natural Resources Committee. "There are a thousand little things that can add up to significant change."

The message isn't lost on the Maine Grocers Association, which has been keeping its member stores updated on the issue and what steps are being taken elsewhere, said its director, Amie Joseph.

While the grocers favor a non-regulatory, voluntary approach, they are also aware the issue "is not going away," Joseph said. Reusable bags are now available in many stores, including the state's largest chains, with prices below $5 for many of the bags made out of recycled plastic or cloth.

The order comes in advance of Earth Day. The April 22 observance sets a goal of having at least half of the state's grocery store customers bring their own reusable shopping bags. That represents an increase from the one out of 20 in Maine who bring their own shopping bags now.

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