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Environment and Outdoors

York Enacts Plastic Bag Ban

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Campaign signs for York's plastic-bag ban.

YORK, Maine — By a narrow margin, voters here have chosen to prohibit stores from using plastic shopping bags.

This makes the southern Maine community the first in the state to introduce such a moratorium.

Earlier this year Portland introduced a 5-cent fee for most plastic bags issued by grocery stores. South Portland is due to follow suit next year and other Maine communities are considering doing the same.

But York is the first to impose a ban.

When the ordinance takes effect in March, retailers will be forbidden to distribute single-use plastic bags. The only exception will be for bags containing dry cleaning, newspapers, types of meat or other produce, and wet items.

Businesses that don't comply face a $50 fine for their first offense, and a $100 fine after that.

"We think it's great," says Pete Didisheim, advocacy director at the Natural Resources Council of Maine, which helped draft the ordinance. "It was a very strong vote from our perspective."

According to estimates, he says Maine produces hundreds of millions of plastic bags every year, most of which are just used once and thrown away.

"And this is an entirely avoidable source of trash," he says. "And for a coastal state like Maine it's important to reduce the amount of plastic. So plastic bags blow into ocean, they break up into small pieces, they're consumed by marine mammals and fish and they're a risk to the health of the oceans, so this is definitely a step forward."

Didisheim says Falmouth and Freeport are also looking into the idea of banning plastic bags, while Brunswick and Topsham are considering joining Portland and South Portland in introducing bag fees.