By Carrie Paul
There once was a time in Maine when the views driving down our scenic roads were obstructed by massive billboards and the roads littered with cans and bottles. Today we are one of only four states in the country that can enjoy the open road undisturbed by the colossal garish advertisements, and our state boasts a 90 percent rate of recycling cans and glass bottles, compared to about 41 percent nationwide. The Natural Resources Council of Maine led efforts to organize and give voice to people of Maine, which resulted in the Billboard Ban Law of 1977 and Maine’s Bottle Bill of 1976.
NRCM, a nonprofit membership organization working to protect the nature of Maine, has been at the forefront of environmental issues in Maine since its founding in 1959. Their dedication to the conservation of our state’s natural resources has put us ahead of the curve nationally when it comes to policies affecting the environment. With over 6.5 billion tons of plastic currently found in landfills and the environment worldwide, and plastic in the ocean expected to outweigh fish by 2050, single-use plastics are one of the most pressing issues we are currently facing. Luckily, NRCM is supporting quite a few bills this legislative season in Maine that focus on improving our state’s relationship with single-use plastics and shrinking our carbon footprint.
Probably the most obvious of the bunch is a bill proposing a statewide ban on plastic shopping bags. Currently 20 towns in Maine, representing 20 percent of the state population, actually have their own town ordinances regarding plastic bags. This bill would give us a consistent policy statewide. We would be only the second state, after California, to do so.
We are seeing two bills focusing on plastics in the restaurant industry: one to ban use of polystyrene foam food containers (what we usually refer to as Styrofoam), which cannot be recycled anywhere in Maine and actually contaminate our current recycling facilities. The other is quite a novel bill, requiring the use of reusable foodware at eating establishments and using only approved disposable foodware for takeaway orders and for a 25 cent charge. This approach has only been executed at the city level in Berkeley, California.
Excitingly, there is also a bill to address the pervasive problem of plastic bottles and bottle caps. Currently bottle caps by themselves are the No. 2 most polluted item worldwide. Made from a hard plastic, they take a long time to break down, and their buoyancy and small size make them serious offenders when it comes to marine life and seabirds ingesting plastics. This bill would require that plastic caps be attached to drink containers, an approach that the EU has targeted as a priority but has yet to be implemented in the US. This bill would also improve plastic bottles by requiring a minimum amount of recycled content in each plastic beverage container sold in Maine.
All of these bills give Maine the chance to uphold our position as trailblazers nationwide on environmental policy, and if passed, hopefully would usher in similar policies throughout the country.
If you’d love to see these bills passed, please contact your legislators and show your support. Contact information for your local legislators and comprehensive information for these bills and other environmental issues can all be found on the NRCM website, http://www.nrcm.org.