Consumers in Portland, Maine, this week will begin paying a nickel fee for the disposable shopping bag they carry from a store.
Portland is the first community in the New England state to both impose a fee for disposable shopping bags and also to ban polystyrene foam food and beverage containers. The intent is to reduce litter and help the environment.
To date, more than 130 municipalities have imposed fees for disposable bags, ranging from a nickel to a quarter per bag.
The polystyrene bans are not as common. Freeport, Maine, also bans the foam containers and the state prohibits food service vendors from using polystyrene at state-owned facilities.
Polystyrene is a petroleum-based plastic. A 1986 EPA report on solid waste named the polystyrene manufacturing process as the fifth largest creator of hazardous waste and 57 chemical byproducts are released during the combustion of polystyrene foam. Toxic chemicals leach out of these products into the food that they contain — especially when heated in a microwave — that threaten human health.
Polystyrene foam dumped into the environment as litter can break up into pieces that choke animals and clog their digestive systems. Dumped into a landfill where trash is buried, polystyrene never degrades.