EPR for Packaging Will Save Taxpayer Money and Improve Recycling
Maine has joined more than 40 jurisdictions around the world to require companies that create packaging waste help pay for the costs of recycling. It becomes the first state in the nation to pass an Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) for Packaging law (LD 1541) in response to a steady increase in packaging materials, including those from online retail, that is driving up costs for local cities and towns.
EPR for Packaging has long been proven to be a successful policy in Canada, Europe, and elsewhere around the world for reducing costs for municipalities, increasing recycling rates, and spurring innovation toward more eco-friendly packaging. Ten states were considering enacting such laws this year, with Oregon likely to be next where the governor is expected to soon sign a bill that has already been passed by the state’s legislature.
“I’m proud that once again, Maine is a national leader when it comes to common-sense environmental protections. This new law assures every Maine community that help with recycling and lowering the property tax burden is on the way,” said State Representative Nicole Grohoski (D-Ellsworth), who introduced LD 1541. “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.”
“Maine will be a model for other states as the United States joins much of the rest of the developed world in creating a product stewardship regime that will increase recycling, improve waste management, save property taxpayers money, and put the cost of packaging disposal onto the producers and brand owners where it belongs,” said lead bill co-sponsor State Senator Rick Bennett (R-Oxford).
Maine’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) estimated in a 2019 report that it costs Maine municipalities between $16 million and $17.5 million each year to manage packaging waste through recycling or disposal. Towns have no say in how much packaging waste companies generate and then ship to consumers.
“This bill is the first step toward reviving local recycling programs and getting municipal waste management back on track,” said Neal Goldberg, Legislative Analyst at the Maine Municipal Association, which has supported the bill since its inception. “For too long property taxpayers have been shouldering the hefty cost of managing packaging material for the world’s biggest producers of waste. LD 1541 not only shares that cost with producers but also encourages Maine’s goals of reducing overall waste generation and increasing recycling rates at affordable prices.”
The new EPR for Packaging law was developed after three years of work and input involving the Maine DEP, Maine Municipal Association, international experts in EPR policies, and a wide variety of in-state stakeholders, including local businesses. Once the program is underway it will require corporations responsible for much of the packaging waste in Maine to reimburse cities and towns for the costs of recycling packaging materials associated with the products they sell to consumers in the state. The policy also provides an incentive for companies to design and manufacture packaging that is easier to recycle and reuse.
“Maine is sending a strong signal that it’s time for big corporations and brands to do their part to curb plastic pollution and reduce wasteful packaging,” said Sarah Nichols, Sustainable Maine Director at the Natural Resources Council of Maine, the state’s leading environmental advocacy group that led the effort to pass the new EPR for Packaging law. “The plastic industry and multinational corporations have reaped billions while they let plastic waste and packaging drive up costs for taxpayers and pollute Maine’s environment. This new law will help create the change we need to make recycling more effective, reduce single-use plastics, and bring relief to Maine’s small towns.”
Maine’s new EPR law was specifically crafted to protect local businesses. Small businesses are exempt, as well as nonprofits and small farmers of perishable food. Multinational corporations – like Amazon, Unilever, Proctor & Gamble, and Kraft – already fully comply with EPR for Packaging programs elsewhere in the world – including across most of Canada and all of Europe. An analysis by NRCM showed that at least 500 consumer brands that do business in Maine already participate in Canada’s EPR for Packaging laws that are analogous to Maine’s new law.
Maine has long worked to hold corporations accountable for the waste and pollution they create. There are already eight EPR laws to help dispose of other difficult-to-recycle items, including electronic waste, mercury-containing products, and unused paint. This year, lawmakers also passed a new EPR law to help Mainers safely dispose of unused medications.
Read Sarah Nichols’ explainer about what’s next for EPR for Packaging in Maine.