AUGUSTA — The Maine Department of Environmental Protection has issued a reminder to retail stores, restaurants and shoppers that the statewide ban on single-use plastic carry-out bags will go into effect on July 1, 2021.

A ban on single-use plastic carry-out bags, passed by the Maine Legislature in 2019, was scheduled to go into effect on April 22, 2020. However, the ban’s enforcement was delayed twice, originally because of concerns regarding potential transmission of the COVID-19 virus, and again in December 2020 because of concerns regarding a disruption in packing supplies and logistical effects caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

DEP encouraged businesses that provide single-use plastic carry-out bags to take advantage of the additional time provided by enforcement delays to procure alternatives and deplete current stocks of these products.

As of July 1, retail establishments including stores, restaurants and temporary or pop-up businesses such as farmers’ markets, food trucks and fairs, are prohibited from providing single-use plastic carry-out bags. Shoppers are encouraged to bring their own reusable bags or totes for transporting their goods.

Stores may provide recycled paper bags or reusable bags for their customers. Grocery stores, box stores and other large retail stores that provide carry-out bags must collect a 5-cent fee for each bag except for reusable bags not made of plastic, such as cloth bags with stitched handles, which may be given away at no cost.

Restaurants and certain smaller retailers (those with less than 2% of retail sales from food and less than 10,000 square feet of retail area) are not required to collect a 5-cent fee per bag but must comply with the single-use plastic carry-out bag ban and provide only reusable or recycled paper bags.

Retailers may still provide single-use bags instore for shoppers to collect loose unpackaged goods prior to purchase, such as produce, deli, and bakery items. However, stores that provide bags for this purpose must serve as a public plastic bag recycling drop-off location.

The Maine Legislature passed the legislation to eliminate single-use plastic carry-out bags to reduce use and encourage the use of reusable bags, thereby reducing the amount of plastic in Maine’s waste stream and litter. Plastic bags do not decompose and can break down into microplastics, thus creating a major negative impact on the environment.

According to the Centers for Biological Diversity, consumption of single-use plastic bags in the U.S. is estimated to average a bag a day (365) per person per year and the EPA estimates that that in 2018, Americans generated nearly 9 billion pounds of PE films, bags and wraps annually.

For more information regarding the single-use plastic bag ban, visit maine.gov/dep/waste/recycle/plastic-bag-film.html.