Maine lawmakers consider competing recycling reform bills


Maine’s intention to create a nation’s first recycling reform program to force private companies to pay for cleaning packaging materials is subject to two competing bills at the State House.

The state has been developing plans for an “extended producer responsibility program” for packaging over the past two years. Large product manufacturers would have to pay some recycling costs to local taxpayers, as well as education and recycling infrastructure. Five Canadian provinces and many countries in the European Union have had similar packaging material programs in place for years, but Maine could be the first state in the country to implement its own system. At least nine states have been prepared to review packaging invoices this year.

One of the bills from Maine, LD 1541, would allow the Department of Environmental Protection to contract with an organization to run the program and require companies to reimburse communities for the cost of disposing of materials that are not easily recyclable. This is an updated version of a proposal that received committee support before it died after the Legislature abruptly adjourned last year.

A second measure, LD 1471, would allow product manufacturers to create an independent, state-approved management organization to manage payments to local governments and invest in new recycling infrastructure. Large manufacturers support this approach, which they say mirrors programs in other parts of the world.

Supporters of the original bill allege that the industry’s proposal lacks the kind of regulation and enforcement that a program needs and is an attempt to distract and complicate the issue for lawmakers.

Sarah Nichols, Maine sustainability director at the Natural Resources Council of Maine, said LD 1471 “would exempt growers from the responsibility of cleaning up their mess.”

“It’s a mirage and it should be ignored,” Nichols said.

Maine taxpayers pay at least $ 16 million a year to manage packaging materials, or about 30% of the state’s waste stream, according to the Department of Environmental Protection.

Soaring recycling costs in recent years, blamed on the Chinese government’s refusal to accept contaminated U.S. waste for recycling, has led some communities to reduce or cancel their recycling programs. This has hampered efforts to reach a statewide 50% recycling target set in the 1980s, said Representative Nicole Grohoski, D-Ellsworth, sponsor of LD 1541.

His bill would shift responsibility to large companies that package products with materials that are difficult or impossible to recycle, Grohoski said.

The proposal “creates a market mechanism to support municipal recycling programs as well as incentives for producers to make better packaging over time,” she said. “Quite simply, it puts the cost on the cost owners.”

Similar programs internationally have increased recycling rates and pushed companies to use less wasteful products, supporters say. However, some costs would likely be passed on to consumers under such a program.

Environmental groups, individuals and local governments were among more than two dozen testimonies in support of Grohoski’s bill during a five-hour public hearing before the Environment and Natural Resources Committee of the Legislative Assembly Monday.

Right now, companies “have no incentive to make their products recyclable, make them sustainable, or limit the amount of packaging used to contain and ship them,” Portland’s sustainability coordinator said, Troy Moon, in his testimony. “(LD 1541) would offer consumer goods companies a financial incentive to reduce packaging and make their products more easily recyclable or reusable.”

In Tremont, a small town on Mount Desert Island, at least 5% of the annual budget is spent on packaging disposal, said Selectman Kevin Buck. Tremont is one of more than 20 towns and cities that have signed a petition in support of the bill.

Resident taxes probably wouldn’t go down immediately if someone else paid that cost, but it could free up more money for various city expenses such as road works, Buck said.

“I hope that many of these programs will not be as delayed as they have been so far,” he said.

Companies subject to the state program oppose the bill, arguing that its terms are ill-defined, that it is too difficult to measure and track materials, that it leaves too little room for producer engagement and could encourage landfill of materials instead of increased recycling.

The process outlined in LD 1541 is simply a tax used to subsidize existing municipal solid waste management programs, not a true extended producer responsibility program, said Alison Keane, president of the Flexible Packaging Association, a trade group representing consumers. companies that manufacture paper, plastic and aluminum foil. and other packaging materials.

“A real… program would ensure that producers actually have more than just financial responsibility; that they have the ability to control how funding is used and invested to ensure program goals are met or exceeded, ”Keane said.

She and other industry representatives expressed support for LD 1471, which would transfer the responsibility of creating a stewardship organization to private producers, instead of the state. There should also be a “needs assessment” to determine the recycling materials and costs for which companies would be responsible.

The industry’s proposal is opposed by environmental groups and other parties, including the DEP, which said the bill “would not effectively address the management of packaging waste in Maine, has the potential. disrupt the solid waste treatment systems of the State and may unduly delegate certain functions. and authority to a stewardship organization. “

Andy Hackman, a lobbyist for Ameripen, a trade group of packaging companies, said the industry-backed bill “represents our good faith effort to create a structure that best represents the people of Maine.” and is similar to the structure of programs in Canada and elsewhere.

This structure gives the state, local governments and producers the opportunity “to have a collaborative solution instead of contentious regulation, where you don’t have the opportunity to sit at the table and talk about issues. such as education programs and retraining rates, ”Hackman mentioned. “At least there has to be a forum for us to come together and tackle these issues.”

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