A bill that would force product makers to shoulder the cost of cleaning up packaging materials cleared a legislative panel this week, potentially putting Maine on track to be the first state in the country to implement such a system.

The bill passed Monday after lawmakers approved amendments proposed by the state Department of Environmental Protection in response to concerns raised by private industry during a public hearing this month.

“We really tried to discuss every single change and the merits of it – there are some things that really and truly are compromise,” said bill co-sponsor Rep. Nicole Grohoski, D-Ellsworth. “It’s said that a good bill is one that makes no one happy – that is what is being presented here.”

Plans to introduce a so-called extended producer responsibility program for packaging have percolated in Maine for several years. Last year, a similar bill was endorsed by lawmakers in committee before expiring when the Legislature adjourned early.

Under L.D. 1541, producers of packaging material would have to pay into a fund, administered by an independent organization, that would be used to pay for municipal recycling, waste management, and reducing waste through education and infrastructure. Companies could reduce their liability to the program by creating independent recycling programs or reducing the amount of packaging on the products they sell.

Programs of this sort have been in place in Europe and some Canadian provinces for years. At least nine U.S. states were slated to consider similar proposals this year, but Maine could be the first to enact one. The state was an early adopter of other producer responsibility strategies, including its bottle deposit law.

Maine municipalities have dealt with soaring recycling costs in recent years, blamed on the Chinese government’s refusal to accept contaminated U.S. materials. Some communities have cut back or eliminated local recycling programs, making it harder to meet a decades-long goal of recycling 50 percent of the state’s waste. It costs Maine residents about $16 million a year to manage packaging waste, according to the Maine DEP.

The bill was voted “ought to pass” mostly along party lines, with co-sponsor Rick Bennett, R-Oxford, siding with Democrats. A competing proposal supported by large manufacturers and producers was voted “ought not to pass,” with majority Democrats in opposition.

The Maine DEP made a number of changes to the bill to reflect concerns raised by producers and other private interests. The state would solicit feedback from interested parties during rule making to create the new system and would perform a needs assessment of the state’s recycling infrastructure to determine the required investment, both issues raised by industry representatives.

An amendment from Bennett was added to increase a revenue exemption for smaller producers from $2 million to $5 million for the first three years. He asked state Environmental Protection Commissioner Melanie Loyzim during the hearing Monday if the bill would get a signature from Gov. Janet Mills.

“I can’t make you any promises, and I also have learned I can’t guarantee what lands on her desk will look like what you’ve done today,” Loyzim said. “Generally, this is consistent with the concept we have stood by all along.”


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