The Maine legislature just passed the “Extended Producer Responsibility Program for Packaging,” set to begin in July of 2022. The goal of the program is to reduce the volume and toxicity of packaging by increasing the amount of recyclable packaging material. To do this, Maine has shifted the cost of managing plastic packaging from the consumer and municipality to the producer. The producer will now be financially responsible for their packaging choices and will be expected to pay fees depending on what materials they use. The fees consider the toxicity, recyclability, and quantity of the packaging materials. It is intended that producers will select packaging that has a higher recoverability rate to avoid incurring additional costs. Furthermore, the legislation benefits the municipalities by creating reimbursement payments from stewardship funds that derive from the producer fees. The stewardship fund will be used toward properly managing plastic packaging, identifying potential improvements to recycling facilities, and educating consumers.
While this legislation provides lots of incentives for producers to make sustainable packaging decisions, it does not prohibit the use of any material. Producers have the autonomy to keep their current packaging, but this will cause them to accrue higher fees towards the stewardship fund. The legislation also does not require that municipalities participate in the program, however, it is intended that both producers and municipalities be involved as stakeholders in the program development process.
According to the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, the program will take several years to roll out and the first payment to municipalities will not be made until 2027. This lengthy timeline is intended to provide a smooth transition for both municipalities and producers. By thoroughly outlining the details of the program as described in the authorizing legislation, a well-defined stewardship organization will be established for all participating parties.
The legislation around plastic packaging is an exciting new front for Maine. However, determining the recoverability of a material across an entire state can be difficult when there are no statewide recycling ordinances. The recoverability of many materials changes from county to county or even from city to city. CIRT is able to provide data on what materials are recoverable where, which will help determine how fees should be attributed to certain packaging types. It is also important from a producer standpoint because they are able to track what materials are recyclable in the regions their product reaches its end of life.
“Extended Producer Responsibility Program for Packaging.” Extended Producer Responsibility for Packaging, Waste Management, Maine Department of Environmental Protection, https://www.maine.gov/dep/waste/recycle/epr.html.
Olick, Diana. “Maine's New Recycling Law Makes Producers of Garbage Pay.” CNBC, CNBC, 4 Oct. 2021, https://www.cnbc.com/2021/10/01/maines-new-recycling-law-makes-producers-of-garbage-pay.html.
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