Shoppers at Walmart had to use different methods for bagging goods after Maine’s disposable plastic bag ban went into effect July 1. Jennifer Arsenault, a student and mother of two, chose to pack items loose in her cart rather than use paper bags. Kay Neufeld/Livermore Falls Advertiser

REGION — What happens when something that’s typically taken for granted suddenly disappears? Regional locals are reckoning with that phenomenon in the wake of Maine’s newly implemented ban on disposable plastic bags. Now, stores will be required to offer only reusable bags (with a minimum of 75 repeated uses) for purchase or recyclable paper bags for a five cent fee.

The law was initially passed in 2019 and supposed to go into effect in April 2020. However, after safety concerns about germs were raised at the beginning of the pandemic, the ban was pushed back twice before finally going into effect July 1, 2021.

In the time of the pandemic, elected state officials attempted to repeal the ban. Those officials, including state Representative Randall C. Hall of Wilton’s 114th District, supported a bill titled “An Act To Improve Public Safety by Repealing the Single-use Plastic Carry-out Bag Ban” that would allow retailers to use plastic bags at the register if the retailer collected used plastic bags to be recycled.

Sharon Jones, an artist from Phillips, packed some of her items in recyclable paper bags and others loose in her cart after Maine’s disposable plastic bag ban went into effect July 1. Jones appreciates the ban’s intentions but wishes consumers had a choice. Kay Neufeld/Livermore Falls Advertiser

Hall said that he “can understand that the thoughts behind why people wanted to ban the plastic bags” but “those bags are so many times used over.” He also had concerns over the hygiene of reusable bags. 

Hall said he supported the repeal because it required stores to recycle plastic bags.

“If the bags could be recycled, that there’s no harm in using them,” Hall explained.

On a Thursday afternoon at the Walmart Supercenter in Farmington, there was mixed reception of the ban.

Some, like Eric Girard of Wilton, hoped that someday “there is no ban.” Girard felt the ban is not “effective on anything” and is “doing nothing.” He raised concerns that he always goes to the store at the “spur of the moment” and thus is “always rebuying bags.”

Terrance “TJ” Jozens carries his purchase in his hand after shopping at Walmart. Jozens is not in favor of the disposable plastic bag ban. Kay Neufeld/Livermore Falls Advertiser

Terrance “TJ” Jozens, a flagger from Farmington, felt that while the ban is “good for the environment,” it was detrimental for the average consumer because “a lot of people kind of depend on them bags” for “home usage.” 

Jozens is concerned with “the idea of them cutting as many trees down” though the paper bags are required to be made from recycled materials.

Though some consumers like Jozens can identify the positive intentions of the ban, they dislike the limits in place.

Sharon Jones, an artist from Phillips, appreciates the intentions to help the environment but dislikes “not having choices.” She’d prefer the state offer the option to use plastic bags, even if she would “forgo using them” herself.

While some select locals were against the idea, others are enthusiastic about the potential positive effects of the ban.

Kyrstyna Baker of Mercer said she is “hoping it will help the earth” and “excited to be able to use (her reusable bags) again.”

Jennifer Arsenault, a criminal justice student and mother of two from Vienna, also supports the ban, though she was initially wary because “it seemed an inconvenience.”

At first I was against it. I kind of thought it was crazy. But I actually really think it’s going to be a positive thing for the future and the environment,” Arsenault explained. “I have two little girls. Thinking about what their world is going to be like when they’re my age, I think it’s great. It’s going to help our environment and in the long run, once everybody gets used to it, it’s so much easier.”

Jennifer Arsenault, a student and mother of two, has found a new system for bringing her shopping items home. Arsenault believes it’s only a matter of time before most consumers adapt to the ban. Kay Neufeld/Livermore Falls Advertiser

Arsenault has adopted a new system for carrying her purchases. She purchased two large bins that she leaves in the back of her car and packs with bulkier items. Alongside her sturdier reusable bags, Arsenault said the bins make “a major difference” and are easier to carry in and out of the house compared to smaller, weaker plastic bags.

Arsenault believes that for people not on board with the ban —particularly older generations and young adults — it’s just a matter of time before they adapt.

They say it takes 30 days to change habits. It’s a habit that we have to get used to,” Arsenault explained. “In the long run, after we get more people using them, everybody’s going to question why we didn’t do it sooner. I think it’s a really positive thing.”

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