With passage and the governor’s signing of Maine’s new Extended Producer Responsibility law, our state has taken a very bold initiative in the quest for a better environment. This is perhaps the most important piece of environmental legislation yet passed in the 21st century, and it leads the country in enacting such measures. Several other states have the same, or equivalent legislation under consideration in their legislatures, but none, beyond Maine, has yet fully taken the step.

What the law does is require manufacturers and large retailers to pay for the recycling of their packaging. The less packaging they produce, and the more readily and easily it is to recycle what they do produce, the less the companies will pay to the state to cover the costs of that recycling. The monies the state collects from the program are to be passed down to the cities and towns to defray the local recycling program costs.

In recent years, local communities have struggled to pay for recycling, and some have even had to stop doing it. In Brunswick, that effort was defeated, and recycling has continued, but help with the costs will be very welcome relief.

The hope is that companies will no longer ship a tiny item in a small box packed in a larger one, with huge quantities of crumpled paper, or even Styrofoam chips around every piece. That kind of packaging will now be very costly for the company. Naturally, there are detractors who claim this will just cost us all money because producers will simply pass along the cost and not change their packaging in any way. The companies could pass the cost along, but competitive pressures have proven in the past that the ones who do that will be quickly left behind by consumers, and will also be forced to change their wasteful habits. All the “costs” of the program ultimately come back to the consumers in any case, so the net cost is zero.

As described by the Product Stewardship Institute, “Under the new law, Maine’s Department of Environmental Protection (ME DEP) will select and contract with a stewardship organization to operate a packaging stewardship program that will reimburse and assist municipalities in providing recycling services throughout the state. Brand owners selling packaged goods must pay fees on all packaging materials to the stewardship organization to fund the system based on the costs of recycling for each material, including infrastructure investments or resident education needed to capture materials statewide. The fee structure, to be determined by DEP rule with multi-stakeholder input, will also include financial incentives for recyclable packaging.”

Expect it to take as much as a year or two for Maine DEP to issue a rule making process and determine the specifics of the program, but progress is being made here! This new law joins similar laws concerning beverage containers (the Returnables Law), electronics, mercury, light bulbs, paint, and, according to PSI pharmaceuticals (as of June 11 of this year).

The Recycle Bin is a weekly column on what to recycle, what not to recycle, and why, in Brunswick. The public is encouraged to submit questions by email to [email protected] Harry Hopcroft is a member of the Brunswick Recycling and Sustainability Committee.

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