ELLSWORTH — Governor Janet Mills on Monday signed into law a bill sponsored by Rep. Nicole Grohoski (D-Ellsworth) that is intended to shift recycling costs from municipalities and onto the makers of product packaging.
The mechanism, known as extended producer responsibility or EPR, is used in several Canadian provinces and European countries, but Maine is the first state in the U.S. to pass a law enforcing its use.
“I’m proud that, once again, Maine is a national leader when it comes to commonsense environmental protections,” said Grohoski. “This new law assures every Maine community that help with recycling and lowering the property tax burden is on the way. It’s time for packaging producers to take responsibility for their waste stream in the Pine Tree State, as they do in more than 40 other countries and regions worldwide.”
Rising costs and the loss of markets for recyclable materials has pushed recycling programs in Maine and around the country to the brink. Some municipalities have stopped or greatly curtailed their recycling programs.
LD 1541, “An Act to Support and Improve Municipal Recycling Programs and Save Taxpayer Money,” creates a stewardship organization overseen by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to manage fees paid by producers. Those fees would vary depending on the design, amount and type of packaging, with the stewardship organization’s administrative costs also paid by producers.
The money collected from companies would be used in part to help Maine municipalities offset recycling costs. There would be a tiered, flat fee option for low-volume producers, those who “deliver[ed], present[ed] or distribut[ed]” between 1 and 15 tons of packaging annually, not to exceed more than $500 per ton of packaging and no more than $7,500 each year. Producers making less than $5 million in total gross revenue would be exempt for the first three years of the program (that threshold would drop to $2 million thereafter), as would 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations.
Some retail representatives have expressed concern about how such a program would affect retailers, and whether costs would be passed on to consumers, as well as the feasibility of collecting a list of producers participating in the program.
“Maine’s economy is not large enough to singlehandedly redefine the packaging market nor recycling markets,” said Christine Cummings, executive director of the Maine Grocers & Food Producers Association, in a June statement. “This policy simply shifts millions of dollars via a hidden tax on consumer products and neglects to create long-term solutions for a circular economy.”