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Agencies, groups partner to give away reusable bags

Aroostook Waste Solutions, the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, and area retailers are teaming up to increase reusable bags in an effort to limit the problems caused by single-use plastic bags.

Starting on Earth Day, Monday, April 22, shoppers at the five Hannaford-affiliated grocery stores in northern Maine — Patten, Houlton, Presque Isle, Caribou and Madawaska — will receive free reusable grocery bags.

The effort to distribute the 14,000 reusable bags is made possible through a $4,000 DEP supplemental grant and is targeted at reducing the amount of plastic bags circulating in the waste stream and area ecosystems.

“Plastic litter is a significant problem for us,” said Mark Draper, director of Aroostook Waste Solutions, which operates both landfills in Aroostook County.  

“The vast majority of the litter you see in our facilities is plastic bags. They’re light-weight, they blow easily in the wind, and there’s a lot of them in the waste stream.”

Plastic bags that are disposed of end up at and around the landfills, where operators have to pay workers to clean them up.  

“In Fort Fairfield, we pay nonprofit groups to come and pick up litter. We’ve also used temporary employees,” Draper said. “Every year, it’s a cost to us to have folks go and pick them up. And that’s not even including the bags that blow out of our facilities.”

Nick Archer, director of the Maine DEP’s northern region, said the agency teamed up with AWS and the Northern Maine Development Commission to distribute reusable bags in an effort to limit the use of plastic bags.

The groups are partnering now with the Hannaford-affiliated grocery stores and will be doing the same with other retailers in the future, Archer said.

“Plastic bags are part of the global plastic problem,” Archer said. “They’re everywhere. Seabirds, turtles, mammals get caught in it or eat it.”

The aim is to give away reusable bags and help people change their habits so that they end up using primarily reusable bags.

Many retailers also have stations for customers to return used plastic bags, which is better than disposing of them in the trash.

“We prefer you use reusable bags, but if you can’t, bring the plastic bags to the recycling bins at the stores,” Archer said.

Currently there are 20 municipalities in Maine that prohibit single-use plastic bags and there is a proposal in the state Legislature to ban single-use plastic bags statewide.

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