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Portland, Maine’s Disposable Bag Fee: Guilt-Inducing or Inspirational?


 Will the disposable bag fee in Portland, Maine, encourage the use of these?

How does a city encourage the use of reusable bags? By imposing a fee on disposable bags, of course. So that’s what Portland, Maine did on April 15, 2015, joining approximately 150 other localities around the country.

Proponents of the Reusable Bag Ordinance hope the five-cent bag fee will raise awareness and reduce waste. In announcing the program, the City of Portland provided several good reasons to use reusable bags:

  • “Shopping with a reusable bag is an effective way to reduce your environmental footprint.”
  • Discarded bags represent “a waste of natural resources” and reinforce “’throw away’ habits rather than conservation.”
  • "Plastic bags are very problematic sources of litter."

For some, bringing bags to the grocery store has become second nature. When bags are forgotten or unavailable due to the spontaneous nature of a shopping trip, the bag charge is a reminder to be more vigilant in the future.

For others, such fees go largely unnoticed and don’t impact behavior at all. That’s why many cities charge higher fees, 10-cents and even 25-cents per bag, as in Capitola, California. The higher the fee, the more likely it is to impact behavior.

Hand-picked reusable bag ordinance FAQs

Not all disposable bags are subject to the fee. Those used “to carry goods to the point of sale,” such as the bags in the produce aisle, are exempt. Also exempt are bags provided by pharmacists for prescription drugs.

Not all stores must impose the fee. Restaurants are exempt, as are stores “at which the sale of food items makes up less than 2% of gross sales.” However, the following must impose the fee:

  • Convenience stores
  • Gas stations
  • Grocery stores
  • Pharmacies and other vendors selling food item

The skinny on sales tax

At the outset, the 5-cent bag fee was subject to sales tax. However, the enactment of LD 590 exempts the fee from the taxable sale. The fee—taxable from April 15 through June 8, 2015—became exempt from sales tax on June 9, 2015.

Simplify sales tax compliance. Learn more.


Gail Cole
Avalara Author
Gail Cole
Gail Cole
Avalara Author Gail Cole
Gail began researching and writing about sales tax in 2012 and has been fascinated with it ever since. She has a penchant for uncovering unusual tax facts, and endeavors to make complex sales tax laws more digestible for both experts and laypeople.