Bill Evolves from Controversy to “Win-Win” for Business and the Environment
AUGUSTA – Today, Governor Baldacci signed L.D. 1631, “An Act to Provide for the Responsible Recycling of Consumer Products,” sponsored by Rep. Melissa Walsh Innes of Yarmouth. The new law, passed with overwhelming bi-partisan support, establishes a first-in-the-nation framework to systematically identify troublesome products in the waste stream for new “product stewardship” programs. These programs require manufacturers and producers to collect and safely recycle or dispose of products at the end of that product’s useful life. This promotes the sustainable reuse of materials, can prevent the release of hazardous chemicals into the environment, can reduce costs for local governments and taxpayers, and create jobs through the collection and recycling of formerly discarded products.
“This bill will help chart Maine on a course to sustainability,” said Representative Walsh Innes, the bill sponsor. “By applying reduce, reuse, recycle across more and more products, we’ll be saving Maine people money, creating new business opportunities and providing Mainers with convenient collection and recycling options for their unwanted products.”
L.D. 1631 builds on Maine’s existing product stewardship programs for electronic waste and mercury-containing products. Computers, televisions, laptops, printers, video game consoles, cell phones, digital picture frames, and mercury-containing thermostats, auto-switches, and light bulbs are all covered by existing product stewardship programs in Maine.
“Thanks to this law, Maine people will have increased opportunities to responsibly recycle products for which there are not good disposal options currently available,” said Matt Prindiville, Clean Production Project Director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine. “Product stewardship programs put the right incentives in place so that designated products are designed to be recycled instead of land-filled or incinerated.”
The original bill, which was far broader in scope and provided far greater authority to the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), was greeted with concern and skepticism from Maine’s business community. The Maine State Chamber initially opposed the bill and outlined their many concerns at the bill’s public hearing.
Supporters of the bill took the Chamber’s comments seriously and made significant changes to the bill to build consensus between Maine’s environmental community, Maine towns, and Maine business interests. On February 19, the Legislature’s Natural Resources Committee voted unanimously in support of the new and improved version of the bill.
“This law is a significant improvement over the original draft of the bill, and – in some very real ways – over the current system used to identify products appropriate for product stewardship,” said Chris Jackson, Senior Governmental Affairs Specialist for the Maine State Chamber of Commerce. “This new framework ensures lots of opportunity for input from the business community and provides some predictability and focus to the state’s product stewardship initiatives. We would like to thank Rep. Innes for her willingness to work with the Chamber and other members of the business community to ensure a better outcome of the legislation.”
Product stewardship policies that incorporate sustainable design, use, and disposal for consumer products and packaging have been gaining ground in Canada, the European Union, and parts of the United States.
“Having business leaders, solid waste officials, and environmental groups coming together to better plan and manage products in the waste stream has been and will be critical to the success of this process,” said Innes.
Background on the Law:
Maine’s existing product stewardship laws were created product-by-product through individual bills, without a comprehensive analysis to determine which products are most important to address. The new law codifies product stewardship as a policy tool to support Maine’s solid waste management hierarchy, and it would work like this:
Step 1: Review and Prioritization. DEP reviews existing product stewardship programs and conducts a prioritization process to identify candidate products for product stewardship programs.
Step 2: Report and Stakeholder Input. DEP writes annual report to the Legislature on 1) the state of existing product stewardship programs, 2) any need for refinements to existing programs, and 3) at DEP’s discretion, a recommendation for a potential candidate product to be considered for a product stewardship program. Stakeholders and interested parties have opportunities to provide comments to the Legislature on the report before it is reviewed by the Natural Resources Committee.
Step 3: Legislative Review and Potential Designation. The Natural Resources Committee would review the report and have the authority to report out legislation to refine existing programs or create a new product stewardship program for a candidate product in the report.
Step 4: Implementation. If the Legislature decides to create a product stewardship program for a given product, the producers of that product would be collectively responsible for establishing and financing a collection and recycling program for that product.
Under LD 1631, the Legislature has full authority to create new product stewardship programs.
DEP’s authority is to conduct a prioritization process and provide recommendations in an annual report.
For more information on Maine’s existing product stewardship laws, visit NRCM’s electronic waste web page.