Starting July 1, stores, restaurants and other establishments in Maine will no longer provide single-use plastic bags for customers, save for a few exceptions. Thick reusable plastic bags and paper bags will be available for purchase for 5 cents each, but the easiest way to avoid the extra fee — and help the planet out along the way — is to bring your own reusable bags.
The world of reusable bags is surprisingly vast, with many different styles to choose from that all require different care.
David Madore, deputy commissioner of the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, said that the best reusable bag for you will depend on your lifestyle and budget. Some good options might include lightweight, packable fabric bags that snap up or roll up into a small packet, which are especially useful if you have trouble remembering your reusable bags. Thick, machine-washable cotton or hemp bags are also a good option that will last for years, though they may cost more upfront. Or you could make a bag from an old t-shirt.
“These are very easy to make, free of charge if you have an old shirt to repurpose, surprisingly strong and stretchy to accommodate a lot of groceries and are machine washable,” Madore said.
Remember to clean the bags if they get soiled, as a store may refuse to fill your bag if it is not clean. The best cleaning method will depend on the type of bag you use.
“Flexible cloth bags from woven material can be thrown into a washing machine while a non-woven reusable bag made from plastic is easy to spray and wipe down with a cloth to keep clean,” Madore said. “One tip is not to machine wash a non-woven bag as that can shorten its useful life, producing [cracks] and rips in the fabric.”
One of the most important things about using reusable bags from a sustainability perspective is to actually use them. Producing reusable bags takes a fair amount of resources, and life cycle analyses show you have to use them a number of times depending on the material to make up for the environmental cost of producing them in the first place.
If you have trouble remembering your reusable bags, Madore recommended leaving your reusable bags with items that you wouldn’t leave home without, like car keys or your wallet.
“Reusable bags are a safe and convenient option for shopping and many Mainers have found it helpful to leave a few in their car or entryway so they don’t forget them,” said Sarah Nichols, director of the Natural Resources Council of Maine’s Sustainable Maine program.
If you forget your bags, you can also ask the store for a spare cardboard box to load groceries.
“Or, if you drove to the store, you could forgo bags and place your groceries right back into the shopping cart, then unload them into your vehicle from the cart,” Madore said.
Also, Madore said to remember that the five-cent paper bags and thick plastic bags can be reused, too, the latter up to 75 times.
Madore recognized that the bill will take some adjusting for consumers.
“Remembering bags is a habit and it may take time to adjust – do the best you can to set yourself up for success by keeping bags where you will see and remember them,” Madore said.