SCARBOROUGH — A new recycling law Maine passed on July 12 could mean savings for municipalities like Scarborough in the future.

Maine became the first state to pass an Extended Producer Responsibility for Packaging law after passing LD 1541 “An Act To Support and Improve Municipal Recycling Programs and Save Taxpayer Money,” said Chrissy Adamowicz, sustainable Maine outreach coordinator for the Natural Resources Council of Maine.

The law targets corporations, Adamowicz said, making producers responsible for the types of packaging they put on the market, and incentivizes packages with more recyclable materials. In 2018, China banned the United States and other countries from sending the nation recyclables, making recycling costs more expensive on a local level.

“There’s this growing realization and awakening by consumers that this waste problem is not their fault,” she said. “There are larger systemic issues with packaging and with plastic that we have to address by looking upstream at the producer and working with them to make more environmental and consumer-friendly packaging.”

Although Maine is the first state in the United States to implement an EPR law, Canada and many countries in Europe currently have such legislation, said Adamowicz.

“They work by involving the people making packaging in the responsibility of managing the packaging at the end of their life,” she said. “That’s important because taxpayers and municipal government, they’re just like a middle man with no control. Up until this point in Maine, we’ve been responsible for footing the bill for managing these wastes responsibly, but we have no control over the design or the material type of the packaging, and that really affects the recyclability of it and the whole market.”

The Maine Department of Environmental Protection will begin putting out requests for a stewardship organization in late 2023 to act as a coordinator between manufacturers and municipalities, Adamowicz said. The law should be fully implemented by 2024.

“We can expect to see the fee schedule reflect what is recyclable,” she said. “So if you are going to put a package on the market that is not recyclable or is hard to recycle, then that package is going to cost more.”

A number of municipal governments have endorsed improved recycling programs, including Scarborough in 2019, when the council passed a resolution in support of municipal recycling programs.

Thorvald Arnell, left, and Julie Gourlay, interns for ecomaine, inspect recycling bins for contamination in 2019. Scarborough helped pilot ecomaine’s recycling outreach and education program and has plans to implement the program again with ecomaine later this year. ecomaine photo

Scarborough is excited for the law’s effect to take place, said Jami Fitch, sustainability coordinator for the town. Over the last few years Scarborough has seen a significant increase in recycling fees, $35 per ton for clean recycling and over $100 for tons of recycling with too much trash.

Due to the fees and in order to improve residents’ recycling, Scarborough started engaging in outreach on social media, Fitch said. The town also recommends residents look at information from Portland-based nonprofit ecomaine on what is recyclable. They can find such information by visiting the website ecomaine.org/what-can-be-recycled.

“We know it’s probably a few years out, but we’re excited to see how the law impacts Scarborough,” she said.

The EPR law will make producers responsible for the fees residents are paying now, Adamowicz said.

“It’s really these large corporations that are going to shoulder the burden because we have exemptions for small businesses in there,” she said.

Residents in the meantime can opt for reusables whenever possible and be mindful about packaging in stores, Adamowicz said. People can thank Maine’s lawmakers for supporting EPR and visit recyclingreform.org for more information.

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