Eva Reck loads groceries into her car at Hannaford near the Maine Mall in South Portland on Thursday. Reck, who is originally from Sweden and now lives in Cape Elizabeth, said she believes the plastic bag ban is a good thing and that her home country banned them a while ago. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Doreen Heller said she supports the environmental goals behind the state’s upcoming ban on plastic shopping bags even if it means finding another source for liners for her bathroom wastebaskets.

Heller, who lives in Scarborough, said she will likely bring her own reusable bags to the grocery store, a practice she followed until the COVID-19 pandemic led stores to ask patrons to refrain from using those bags out of concern that it could spread the coronavirus.

“I used to use them and then they said, ‘Don’t bring them,’ and I haven’t put them back in the car,” she said.

The state’s ban takes effect July 1, after which most retailers will be barred from bagging customers’ purchases in those ubiquitous thin plastic bags. Customers will either have to bring their own reusable bags, opt for paper bags for which they will pay a mandatory 5-cent fee or go without bags altogether.

The ban on single-use plastic bags was adopted by lawmakers in 2019, designed to lighten the waste stream and cut down on the number of flimsy plastic bags stuck in trees and fluttering along roadsides in the state. But the measure sat on the launching pad longer than most laws – it was originally designed to go into effect in April 2020, but delayed over concerns that reusable bags might carry and spread the virus.

Then it was supposed to go into effect early this year, but was delayed again after concerns were raised that the supplies of alternatives might have been disrupted by the pandemic. But the July 1, 2021, date is now set in stone, state officials said.

Grocery stores and other retailers have been gearing up for the new law by posting signs alerting shoppers to the change that’s coming in less than two weeks.

Hannaford stores will offer customers an option of using paper bags, spokesman Eric Blom said. The state requires a minimum fee of 5 cents for each paper bag, he said, and that’s what Hannaford will charge its customers.

Signs posted around stores also encourage the use of reusable bags, Blom said, and Hannaford will sell “cause bags,” with $1 for each reusable bag purchased going to support hunger relief or local charities.

The statewide ban will replace local laws that sought to reduce the use of single-use plastic bags. About a dozen towns and cities around the state adopted bans or per-bag charges to discourage the use of the bags over the past decade, but advocates of a statewide ban said a more comprehensive approach is needed to make a dent in the amount of plastic waste going to landfills or becoming litter.

Plastic bags don’t decompose but they do tear into smaller pieces that pollute the land and water. Americans use an average of a bag a day and estimates are that the country generated 9 billion pounds of plastic film, bags and wrap waste in 2018.

Maine’s ban is not all-encompassing. Stores can still provide plastic bags to shoppers buying unpackaged goods, such as produce, deli or bakery items, while they are still in the store, although those retailers will have to provide a drop-off location for plastic bag recycling.

Restaurants and smaller retailers who have only miniscule food sales can waive the nickel-a-bag fee on paper bags, although they still have to eliminate the use of single-use plastic carryout bags.

Customers like Heller were mostly accepting of the change, although for many, the plastic bags aren’t single-use. After they carry groceries home, many have a short second life as bags for cleaning up after pets or as a liner for small wastebaskets.

Stuart Young outside off his car at Hannaford in South Portland near the Maine Mall on June 17. Staff photo by Brianna Soukup

Eva Reck of Scarborough said she had to adjust to having bags after moving to Cape Elizabeth from Sweden, where plastic bags have been banned for use.

“We’re a little behind on that here,” she said. Like many others, she uses the grocery bags for cleaning after her dogs.

But at least a few shoppers are weary of having to keep up on the wave of changes to old habits, even if it’s for a good cause.

“It’s always something,” Stuart Young of South Portland said as he put a plastic bag of groceries in his car. “They’re always trying to change something.”

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