Recycling in Maine is Fundamentally Flawed. You Can Help Fix It.
Recycling is one of the key ways that we can keep materials out of landfills and conserve our natural resources. For decades, Maine people have developed a strong recycling ethic because they want to do the right thing. However, many people are losing access to recycling programs due to changes in the recycled commodities markets and this is not acceptable.
Maine towns and cities should not have to choose between doing what is right for the environment and their bottom line. If we don’t take action, then corporations will continue to produce wasteful, non-recyclable packaging and taxpayers and future generations will continue to be stuck with disposal and recycling costs. Our current approach to recycling is flawed and in urgent need of reform.
Maine passed a law establishing a 50% recycling goal 30 years ago. Despite good intentions, the state recycling rate has remained stagnant at a low 40%—and now it’s falling!
The recent shake-up in global recycling markets has exposed the fundamental flaws in how we manage recycling in Maine. Market downturns for some commodities, like paper and plastic, have led to an unprecedented rise in the cost of recycling. And new materials are being sold into the market with no local recycling option.
When comparing high recycling costs to the low cost of disposal, many communities are left feeling like they have no choice but to abandon or cut back on their recycling programs—which is why the recycling rate is falling.
Recycling programs should not be paid for by taxpayers and municipalities who have no say in what materials they are stuck managing and paying for. Recycling is an important environmental issue that should be planned for at the design stage. The costs of recycling should instead be built into the system—not paid for by taxpayers.
NRCM supports a law that would reform recycling by providing a clear economic incentive for brand owners and big corporations to produce less wasteful packaging that can be easily recycled locally. This policy approach is called “extended producer responsibility for packaging.” It is already being implemented all over the world. Packaging, which includes plastic, steel, aluminum, glass, and cardboard, constitutes approximately 30% to 40% of the materials managed by weight in waste management programs in Maine.
How shared responsibility for recycling packaging in Maine would work:
Similar to Maine’s eight existing product stewardship laws, a group of brand-owners who sell packaging materials in Maine would band together and form a nonprofit producer responsibility organization (PRO). The PRO's primary function would be to reimburse our municipalities for the net-costs of recycling and expand access to recycling for the different packaging materials.
- If municipalities have a profitable recycling program for the material type, with no net-costs, then the PRO would not have to reimburse them.
- If municipalities have to pay for recycling then they would be reimbursed for their costs of managing it by the PRO.
- The PRO will have incentives to increase access to recycling for more types of materials since they will pay more if municipalities don't have a recycling program for their material type.
Recycling reform for Maine will make recycling:
- More Effective. Producers of packaging materials would have a direct economic incentive to produce less wasteful packaging that can easily and profitably be managed by municipal recycling programs. And municipalities would have a direct economic incentive to have a robust and efficient recycling program since it would no longer create a tax burden, and they could avoid disposal costs. Having shared responsibility between those who create the waste and those who manage the waste would foster recycling system improvements and enable greater participation in recycling across Maine.
- More Sustainable. Our current approach to recycling is not resilient to changes in the global recycling market. Because towns and cities have to budget for recycling, when costs rise unexpectedly they may be forced stop or restrict their programs. If taxpayers no longer have to pay for recycling costs but still have to pay for disposal, then there is a strong incentive for municipalities to have a robust and long-lasting recycling program. Think of this solution as an insurance policy for Maine municipalities when global recycling markets fluctuate.
- More Equitable. Maine’s cities, towns, and taxpayers currently pay $16-$17.5 million per year to manage packaging waste. Meanwhile, more and more disposable and wasteful packaging is entering the market every day because producers have no incentive to design better packaging. This leaves taxpayers unfairly footing the bill for a problem they didn’t create. With recycling reform, taxpayers will no longer pay for the cost of recycling since the net costs of recycling would be reimbursed by a producer responsibility organization—similar to what is done in more than 40 jurisdictions around the world.
NRCM is working closely with lawmakers, stakeholders, and concerned residents to craft a law that is right for Maine using the framework created by the Resolve to Support Municipal Recycling Programs that was adopted in 2019. There will be strong opposition from big corporations that are benefiting from having taxpayers pay the costs of recycling. To reform recycling in Maine, we will need the support of Mainers across the state!
How You Can Help
- Sign the petition to reform recycling in Maine.
- Spread the word! Share the petition with your friends and family.
- Contact your municipal officials. Share with them our letter asking Maine's towns and cities to adopt a resolution to support Recycling Reform for Maine.
- Contact the companies that you buy from. If the products you enjoy come in non-recyclable packaging, then let them know you want them take responsibility and make changes to the design so that you can recycle your packaging locally.
- Stay informed—Join NRCM's Action Network to receive emails when there are ways you can take action!
- Find ways to reduce and reuse your waste at home. No matter how strong our recycling programs are, we can’t lose sight of the first two Rs!