March 26, 2010

Law to force more manufacturers to pay for waste disposal

Maine is the first state to decide which products should qualify for such disposal-cost help.

By ETHAN WILENSKY-LANFORD Kennebec Journal

AUGUSTA — Gov. John Baldacci signed legislation Thursday making Maine the first state to decide which consumer products should have waste collection and disposal paid for by manufacturers.

"Business, environmental groups and legislators came together to advance this practical approach to addressing the growing, expensive problem of managing consumer product waste, and I commend them for their efforts," Baldacci said in signing L.D. 1631.

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Melissa Walsh Innes, D-Yarmouth, said, "applying reduce, reuse, recycle across more and more products, we'll be saving Maine people money, creating new business opportunities and providing Mainers with convenient collection and recycling options for their unwanted products."

Under the new law, the Department of Environmental Protection will make annual reports on programs in which manufacturers pay to collect and dispose of the products they make. Such programs are known as "product stewardship."

The DEP will propose adding products to the list, with advice from business, environmental and municipal interests.

Hazardous materials that are troublesome to dispose of, such as tires, are expected to top the list. The DEP will also ask communities which products they have difficulty disposing of, and research product stewardship in other countries.

In British Columbia, for example, manufacturers pay to collect and dispose of electronics, used oil, beverage containers, paints, solvents, tires and pharmaceuticals.

Lawmakers are also considering a bill, L.D. 821, to require drugmakers to collect and dispose of unwanted or expired medications. It awaits further votes in the House and Senate.

In 2001, the Legislature passed the country's first law requiring automakers to pay for collection of mercury switches, then common in trunk lights and vanity mirrors, said Carol Cifrino, who runs the state's product management programs for the DEP.

The mercury in the switches was being released when cars were crushed, she said.

In 2003, computers and televisions containing lead were banned from landfills. The next year, the Legislature required manufacturers to split the disposal cost with municipalities.

Taxpayers often bear the cost of the cleanup of hazardous products. In many communities, trash disposal is the greatest expense after schools.

Portland pays more than $100,000 each year to dispose of hazardous household materials such solvents and pesticides, said Troy Moon, Portland's solid waste manager.

The Maine State Chamber of Commerce helped craft the bill the governor signed Thursday.

Environmental advocates say product stewardship is a smart business move.

"We're trying to create a system here where products are recycled into perpetuity, instead of ending up in a landfill," said Matt Prindiville, policy advocate at Natural Resources Council of Maine.

 

MaineToday Media State House Reporter Ethan Wilensky-Lanford can be contacted at 620-7016 or at:

ewlanford@mainetoday.com

 

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