Senator Carson, Representative Tucker, and members of the Joint Standing Committee on Environment and Natural Resources, my name is Sarah Lakeman and I am the Sustainable Maine Project Director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine (NRCM). I appreciate this opportunity to speak to you in support of LD 102, An Act to Improve the Manufacturing of Plastic Bottles and Caps.
NRCM is a strong advocate for policies that help create what is known as a circular materials economy—a concept that requires businesses, governments, and consumers to work together to innovate and design waste out of the system so that we can efficiently conserve resources and reduce our cumulative impact on our environment. There are many bills concerning materials management this session, and I’m really glad that LD 102 is the first that the committee is taking up because it prompts us to talk about three really important waste issues: 1) reducing plastic pollution 2) strengthening the recycling markets; and 3) designing products and collection systems with the circular materials economy in mind.
Connecting the Cap Will Help Reduce Plastic Pollution
Plastic bottle caps are the second most common form of plastic litter in the United States; and the fifth most deadly after fishing gear, plastic bags and utensils, balloons, and cigarette filters. Because of the beverage container recycling process, plastic bottle caps are actually designed to float on the surface of the water, which is why they are so deadly for sea creatures and birds who mistake them for food. In 2015, US consumers bought 100 billion Polyethylene terephthalate (otherwise known as #1 plastic or PET) beverage containers, and about 60 billion of those containers were water bottles. Each of these containers has a plastic cap.
Connecting the cap to the bottle would increase the recycling of bottle caps and prevent leakage into the environment where they have been proven to be deadly. Requiring that caps remain connected to beverage containers would be especially effective in Maine because of high participation in our Beverage Container Redemption program. Although the Association of Plastic Recyclers (APR) advise that plastic containers should be recycled with caps on regardless of the difference in plastic resin type, many consumers are either unaware of this fact or don’t care. It’s possible that an educational campaign or instructions on the container label could prevent some beverage caps from being separated from their containers, but it’s neither a silver bullet nor is it a sustainable solution to this problem. Rather, fixing the beverage container design flaw so that the cap remains connected is a much smarter and more sustainable solution to managing plastic bottle caps. Examples of connected caps are attached.
Attaching caps to bottles for non-carbonated beverages, like water, is already common practice, though not universal. However, carbonated beverages or beverages that are under pressure do not currently have attached caps because there is little incentive and no requirement for beverage companies to do so. As such, LD 102 could provide a little more time for compliance for beverages bottled under pressure to allow for development of a proper tethered or connected cap.
In other words, just because this isn’t currently being done doesn’t mean it can’t be done. In fact, all beverage containers sold in the European Union (EU) will likely soon be required to have tethered caps. As part of the Single-Use Plastic Directive that the European Parliament announced in December 2018, all EU member states shall develop their own national legislation surrounding the top 10 most common forms of plastic pollution within the next two years, including design requirements for beverage containers like the provisions proposed in LD 102. There is a one-page explanation of the EU Single-Use Plastic Directive attached.
Requiring a Minimum Recycled Content Standard Will Strengthen the Plastic Recycling Market
Creating more demand for post-consumer recycled plastic is vitally important to the recycling industry; and recycling is of course a great way to keep plastic out of landfills and incinerators and reduces our need to manufacture virgin plastic from fossil fuels. Since China made the decision to discontinue buying recycled commodities unless they meet a perfect quality standard, the US recycling markets ended up with too much supply and not enough demand which significantly drove down the value of the material. While this is troubling and has led to many problems in Maine and elsewhere, it actually presents opportunity to intentionally build markets for recycled commodities that are closer to home. LD 102 seizes on this opportunity by setting attainable minimum recycled content standards for beverage containers.
On average, #1 PET plastic beverage containers contain only 6% of recycled content which means that 94% use virgin plastic. Further, there is 25% unused capacity at US PET processors. There is clearly a lot of room for improvement. Some brands already use 100% recycled content in their plastic beverage containers, and like to advertise this fact. In 2018, Nestle pledged to use 25-50% recycled PET in packaging sold in the EU, and Unilever announced a 25% commitment to recycled content worldwide the year before. While this is a good first step, voluntary commitments from a handful of companies are clearly not enough to strengthen the plastic recycling market and spur much needed development and private investment in collection infrastructure.
Designing Products with End-of-life Management in Mind is Necessary for an Equitable Circular Materials Economy
Waste and litter management has historically been a public sector problem and taxpayer expense, although the public has had essentially no choice over what materials are thrust upon them to deal with. For too long, producers of waste materials—like beverage containers—have misled people to believe that educational campaigns and public investment in collection infrastructure is the best and only way to solve our waste problems. However, fragmented collection infrastructure and consumer education campaigns are simply not effective ways to encourage recycling and prevent litter. If they were, we wouldn’t be in danger of having more plastic in the ocean than fish by 2050, and we wouldn’t be burying and burning our resources at a higher rate than we are recycling them. But time and again, this is the approach touted most frequently by companies or industry groups that turn a profit when selling goods that create a lot of waste and litter.
Instead, we need to take a more preventative approach in finding solutions to our most pressing waste issues, like plastic pollution and recycling, by looking up the chain at product and packaging design, and to proactively set up systems to ensure the materials are collected and reused or recycled at the end of their useful life. Without this, we will always have a waste problem funded by taxpayers, and our environment and wildlife is taking the brunt of the damage. The concepts of “product stewardship” and “circular materials economy” are not new in Maine—we have eight laws on the books that require certain industries to help the public sector manage the waste created by their products. Although LD 102 does not oblige the beverage container industry to explicitly fund and manage collection program for bottle caps in the same way as our other laws, the concept behind it is the same. By passing LD 102, we are saying that we, the public sector, need industry help in managing the waste created by these plastic beverage containers and their caps. It’s only fair that the beverage industry shares in this responsibility and fixes this design flaw in their packaging by attaching the caps.
Thank you so much for your time and careful consideration of this bill and my comments. I’d be happy to answer any questions that you may have.
 Plastic recyclers can separate the plastic cap resin type (typically #5 or #2) from the plastic bottle resin type (typically #1 or #2), more easily if one floats and one sinks.
 Source: 2017 APR/NAPCOR(National Association for PET Container Resources) Annual Report
 Derived from Beverage Marketing Corporation data, 2002-2015.
 https://www.plasticsrecycling.org/education/faqs/caps-on; also a clip of the website is attached.
 Source: 2017 APR/NAPCOR Annual Report.
 Source: Cleaning the rPET Stream, Closed Loop Partners % RRS, 2017
 Here is a sampling of companies that use recycled content (rc) in their PET bottles for beverages: Nestle ReSource Water 100% rc; Mountain Valley Spring Water – 35% rc; Naya Water – 100% rc; Eldorado Water – 100% rc; Naked Juice – 100% rc in all sizes of products; Activate Water – 100% rc. Top of FormBottom of Form
 Source: The New Plastics Economy, Ellen MacArthur Foundation.
 The global recycling rate for plastic is a mere 9%, 12% has been destroyed through incineration, and 79% is either in a landfill or in the environment; Source: The New Plastics Economy, Ellen MacArthur Foundation
 Maine’s product stewardship laws cover these products: mercury-containing thermostats and auto switches, rechargeable batteries, lamps, architectural paint, cell phones, electronic waste, and beverage containers.