Legislators are poised to consider a bill concerning the purchase and sale of single-use plastic water bottles by state and municipal governments — as well as the mandated installation of free-to-use water refill stations in certain facilities — at some point during the next legislative session.
LD 1418 — An Act Concerning Single-use Disposable Water Bottles and Water Refill Stations — was introduced last session by Rep. Lori K. Gramlich (D-Old Orchard Beach) and was referred to the Committee on Environment and Natural Resources before being carried over to next session.
There are two primary aims of this bill: (1) to prohibit the sale of single-use plastic water bottles by food establishments providing services at state or local functions and (2) to require the installation of water refill stations in public facilities, as well as retail establishments that continue to sell single-use plastic water bottles after a set date.
If passed, LD 1418 would ban the provision of single-use plastic water bottles at state or local facilities or functions. The proposed law specifically identifies “uncarbonated, unflavored drinking water” — meaning that the sale of sparkling water, soda, and other beverages in single-use containers would still be permissible.
The bill also aims to prohibit “an agency, department, board, commission or institution of the State or of a political subdivision” from purchasing single-use plastic water bottles except under a state of emergency declared by the governor.
As this legislation is currently written, all state and local government facilities would be required to install a “reasonably accessible” water refill station by January 1, 2024. Given that the bill was ultimately carried over to the next session, however, it can be expected that this deadline will be shifted accordingly.
LD 1418 also aims to require the installation of water refill stations that can be used free of charge at retail establishments that choose to sell single-use plastic water bottles to the public after a set date. Under the bill’s current language, this mandate would go into effect on January 1, 2027.
Gramlich has requested, however, that Committee members amend the bill to strike this requirement to allow the government to “model the behavior we want to see” and “give us the chance to examine a longer timeline to work with the private sector to accomplish this goal more broadly.”
In her testimony introducing the bill, Rep. Gramlich stated that “by phasing out single-use plastic water bottles and encouraging reusable containers, we can take a significant step towards reducing plastic waste and protecting our planet.”
“LD 1418 would address single-use plastic water bottles by prohibiting state entities, buildings, and functions from serving or selling water in single-use plastic bottles, requiring instead that water filling stations are available so that state employees and members of the public alike have the opportunity to access clean, healthy drinking water using reusable containers,” Gramlich said.
“Water refill stations allow individuals to refill their reusable containers with clean, fresh water, eliminating the need to offer single-use water bottles in the first place,” Gramlich said. “They are convenient and environmentally friendly. They even offer economic benefits, since free public water stations save people money when compared to purchasing single-use water bottles, and decreasing the use of single-use plastics also reduces pressure on the waste management stream.”
While advocates of environmentalism — including the Natural Resources Council of Maine (NRCM) — testified in support of this legislation for its expected benefits to the environment, business and municipal interests have testified in opposition.
The Maine State Chamber of Commerce cited concerns over the cost of installing water refill stations, as well as the impact that the inevitable removal of single-use plastic water bottles from store shelves would have on the consumption of less-healthy beverages sold in single-use containers.
The Maine Grocers and Food Producers Association expressed a fear that mandating the installation of free-to-use water refill stations would open the door to unsanitary practices and potential abuse by those looking to take advantage of an opportunity.
Instead of requiring their installation, the organization suggested that lawmakers look into effective ways to incentivize retailers to make these facilities available in their stores as appropriate.
The Maine Municipal Association pointed out in their testimony the vitality of having single-use water bottles on hand for first responders in emergency situations.
Although the legislation provides for exceptions to the prohibition of plastic water bottles in cases where the governor declares a state of emergency, no such exception currently exists in the bill for disaster situations designated by local government officials.
According to the Maine Municipal Association, a state of emergency declaration from the governor would be “inappropriate and unachievable in the midst of a local disaster.” Consequently, the bill as currently written would prohibit municipal governments from obtaining bottled water when necessary in response to local crises.
“While officials share concerns around plastic bottles in general, targeting bottled water
exclusively unnecessarily complicates municipal operations and takes away community choice and agency to determine what their priorities are without achieving a reduction of waste, or elimination of need,” the Maine Municipal Association testified.
The Maine Department of Environmental Protection (Maine DEP) also issued testimony in opposition to the bill, citing many of the same concerns as the Maine Municipal Association.
Additionally, the Maine DEP noted that single-use plastic bottles are a critical means of providing Mainers with safe drinking water under circumstances where a state of emergency has not and should not be declared — such as during periods where drinking water has been contaminated in a given area by petroleum or per- and polyfluorinated substances (PFAS).
It remains to be seen what members of the Committee on Environment and Natural Resources will choose to handle LD 1418 next session — particularly whether or not they will move to amend the bill in response to the critiques and criticisms received during the public hearing.
Rep. Lori Gramlich did not immediately respond to a request for comment from the Maine Wire.