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 in support of LD 1431, which may be the most important and transformative municipal solid waste-related policy up for discussion this session. We urge the committee to support this zero-risk way to advance the concept of an Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) program for post-consumer packaging in Maine.
The shake-up in global recycling markets may be a blessing in disguise because the recycling and waste management challenges faced by Maine’s municipalities, which were once hidden from public view, have become increasingly apparent. Evidenced by the collapse, reduction, or increased costs of many of Maine’s municipal recycling programs, it’s clear that our waste management infrastructure and funding in Maine is neither consistent nor sustainable. Recycling has long been recognized as a key strategy to conserve our Earth’s finite resources and keep valuable materials out of landfills and incinerators, and we must fight to protect it through innovative policy solutions like LD 1431.
Taking an EPR approach to post-consumer packaging materials, like plastic, cardboard, and metal, could produce similar benefits to our other product stewardship programs that have been working in Maine for years. EPR for packaging is common outside of the U.S.; more than 40 other jurisdictions around the world have some form of this policy, including all 28 countries in the European Union, as well as Israel, Brazil, Chile, India, Russia, and five Canadian provinces. Some of these laws have been in place for 30 years and we can learn from them when crafting a policy that is right for Maine. Based on our experience and that of others, these are some of the benefits we could realize with an EPR for packaging policy in Maine stemming from passage of LD 1431:
- Saving Maine cities, towns, and taxpayers $16-$17.5 million per year in recycling and disposal costs: The cost of managing waste is often one of the highest line items in a town budget behind schools, police, and fire departments. Any funds not spent on waste can be funneled toward waste management, can be directed to other parts of a town budget, or even result in a lower tax rate. Mainers want to do the right thing and recycle, but towns are struggling to support recycling programs due to high costs when compared with disposal at a landfill or incinerator. LD 1431 seeks to ensure that recycling will make more financial sense than disposal in all Maine towns and reduce the tax burden on our citizens for managing waste through establishing a more fair way to pay for recycling costs.
- Creating a more circular system where producers of packaging would have an incentive to design products that are more easily recycled, less wasteful, more efficient, and use more recycled content. About 30-40% of municipal solid waste is made up of plastic, metal, and cardboard packaging materials, but many product packages are not designed with recycling or reuse in mind. A major reason for this is that those who create and profit from packaging are disconnected from those who end up managing and paying for the waste it creates. LD 1431 could establish a more circular system, where the post-consumer recovery aspect is incorporated into packaging manufacture and design through either statutory requirements or price signals. For example, producers of materials that have a well-established recycling program in place and are of a high-market value would pay less into the system than those producers who sell packaging materials that are invaluable or wasteful. Combining an EPR approach to packaging with recycled-content requirements or goals could further strengthen and bolster the recycling economy.
- LD 1431 could finally let Maine reach our 50% recycling goal established in 1989. Maine passed a law establishing a 50% recycling goal 30 years ago. But despite good intentions, the state recycling rate has remained stagnant, hovering around 40% and falling. Shared responsibility for waste management sends the right economic incentives to packaging producers and recyclers, and municipalities, which could help Maine increase our recycling rate to well above 50 percent. Many of the jurisdictions of these places now see 60-80% recycling rates.
- LD 1431 could establish a way for all Maine communities to recycle the same materials, making statewide recycling education possible. Statewide recycling education is often touted as a way to help boost recycling rates, but right now that concept is flawed. Since Maine’s communities currently operate on a somewhat fragmented basis, with neighboring communities sometimes having wildly different recycling programs, it’s impossible to share a broad message about what is recyclable and what isn’t. But with an EPR approach, Maine could require that a third-party stewardship organization ensure access to recycling for all Mainers for certain materials, and could help fund and execute an education campaign that is badly needed. Since this group would be made of the companies that also manufacture the packaging, they will know which materials are entering our waste stream.
NRCM believes that this resolve is a key way to bring the stakeholders to the table and to draw out what the most important elements of an EPR for packaging program are to Maine. A vote in favor is simply an endorsement of this concept, and the programmatic details can be worked on over the next year. Please support this resolve to help save as much as $16 million to $17.5 million of taxpayer money, encourage less wasteful packaging, and conserve our natural resources. I’d be happy to answer any questions that you may have.
- List of Maine towns that have stopped or restricted recycling due to cost increases; and results of our recycling survey.
- NRCM fact sheet on LD 1431
 A running list of Maine’s municipalities that have reduced or eliminated recycling programs is attached.
 DEP cost estimate from 2019 Annual Product Stewardship Report