On Wednesday, the Legislature’s Environment and Natural Resources Committee will hold a public hearing on L.D. 2104, An Act to Support and Increase the Recycling of Packaging. While increased recycling and the minimization of waste are important, this legislation seeks to mandate that the thousands of unique producers, brand owners or sole distributors of packaged goods sold at retail in Maine must compensate municipalities for the cost of recycling packaging introduced to the market. The proposed policy is laden with flaws, making it impossible for Maine’s businesses to comply. It also simply shifts costs and neglects to create long-term measures to establish a circular economy.

Maine would be the first in the country to pass an extended producer responsibility program for packaging. California, Washington state and Connecticut recently explored creating programs, but realized that this is a very complex problem without easy answers. If the world’s fifth largest economy, California, could not effectively implement a program of this nature, we are concerned for Maine’s capacity to successfully and singlehandedly execute an all-encompassing packaging stewardship system.

Prematurely passing an extended producer responsibility law will hurt Maine businesses, which will struggle with aggregating data and increased costs to administer compliance with the program. Even supporters of this legislation, in recent presentations, noted that retailers often do not have data necessary for accurate packaging reports – they require time to gather it. The legislation mandates varying reporting requirements while failing to clearly define the responsible parties, because of the complexities of the supply chain.

Manufacturers, distributors and retailers acknowledge the need to improve the current recycling and waste management system. A number of problems have gotten us here, including China’s bans on importing recyclables, consumers’ confusion about what is or is not recyclable and a lack of efficient infrastructure to process recyclable materials. L.D. 2104, however, addresses none of these issues.

Producers will be forced to pay the $23 million “pack tax” with no requirement for changes to the recycling system. In some instances, producers may pay two times their current cost of disposal or recycling, while recycling will still remain optional for municipalities. Municipalities will have varying interests whether or not to recycle based on volume, transportation costs, value and market variances, all determined by the bill’s unclear definition of “readily recyclable.” As currently defined, commonly used materials such as glass, mixed-paper, mixed-plastic, cardboard and plastic film will not be considered readily recyclable.

Lastly, Maine’s food-friendly reputation will be tarnished as businesses face this cost-prohibitive pack tax. This policy places recyclability above all other facets of food packaging. Food packaging must meet food safety requirements, ensure quality and consistency, safeguard the goods during distribution, resist tampering and guarantee a sustainable shelf life. This bill would disregard those other functions and their impact on the supply chain. In Gov. Mills’ 10-year Economic Development Strategy, food was identified as one of the four “thematic areas” in which “Maine has current strengths, there is growing global demand, and there is a potential for job creation. … From aquaculture to traditional seafood harvesting to value-added food production, growth is anticipated in these food industries and Maine can benefit greatly by growing our capacity to meet these markets.” Policies should be passed that seek to aid in growth and development, not increase costs and compliance restrictions.

A mandated extended producer responsibility tax scheme will inevitably create funding, but it is not a full-circle approach that will ultimately result in the generation of new material markets nor entry back into the end-of-life waste markets. The goal is to change consumer behavior, consume less and recycle more. Passing L.D. 2104 will not improve recycling; it only shifts costs. Businesses and environmental partners should continue to collaborate to fully analyze and address infrastructure needs while defining sustainable and actionable solutions for Maine.


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