Portland Press Herald opinion piece
PORTLAND – If there’s one topic that keeps popping up in the national news, it’s what to do with our trash.
Americans produce more waste than any other country, more than half of which is residential garbage. Some of this garbage is in the form of household hazardous waste.
Many things, like cleaning agents, rodenticides, oil, fuel and solvents, are classified as household hazardous waste because they are potentially toxic, reactive, flammable and generally, well, hazardous.
Most people agree that such things need to be handled and stored properly. But what should you do with them when you’re done? How do we dispose of them?
Unfortunately, toxic household chemicals are often disposed of improperly and find their way into the ground, the water, the sewer, landfills and incinerators. These chemicals are a serious threat to our drinking water, ecosystem, food and animals.
Environmental and public health groups and municipal leaders often advocate for extended producer responsibility laws. These laws expand on product stewardship programs, which require manufacturers to design and manage recovery programs for toxic or problematic products such as batteries, electronics and many mercury-containing products.
Currently in play in Maine, L.D. 1308, An Act to Establish A Stewardship Program for Architectural Paint, will add oil-based and latex paints to the list of products managed through extended producer responsibility.
Oil-based paint can contain lead and combustible solvents and produce toxic fumes. Other ingredients include resins, pigments and volatile organic compounds. This poisonous waste can have short- and long-term health consequences, not only for humans but also for our ecosystems and the animals that live in them.
According to the Natural Resources Council of Maine, taxpayers shell out about $2.4 million for the proper disposal of the approximately 300,000 gallons of waste paint produced every year by Mainers. But that doesn’t include paint that’s been improperly discarded.
While Portland and other communities in Maine have a government-run oil-based paint collection program in place paid for by taxes, limited hours and logistical difficulties reduce the incentive to use this service.
Riverside Recycling Facility is the only option for Portland residents. Drop-off dates are scheduled once a month and are limited to 10 gallons per year, with a maximum of two visits free of charge. (This does not apply to businesses.)
This stewardship program would address these issues.
First, this shifts the cost of paint collection from taxpayers to the individual consumer.
Furthermore, through this program, retail suppliers could also accept unwanted latex and oil-based paint for recycling, increasing accessibility to safe disposal options for residents and small businesses.
The concepts of extended producer responsibility and stewardship are becoming more widespread across Canada, the European Union, Sweden and here in the U.S.
Unfortunately, about a third of our states still do not have a single stewardship program.
According to Abigail King, toxics policy advocate for the Natural Resources Council of Maine, the paint industry is taking proactive steps in the development of L.D. 1308.
The Department of Environmental Protection has looked into extended producer responsibility programs for carpeting, packaging and printed paper, alkaline batteries, plastic bags, phone books, mattresses, furniture and construction and demolition debris. Despite this, there is still organized opposition, mostly focused on the added costs of doing business.
But it’s time for manufacturers, here in Maine and across the globe, to extend their vision beyond the next fiscal quarter.
Research has proven the detrimental effects of many toxic products, and manufacturers need to share the responsibility for the entire life cycle of these products by internalizing end-of-life costs.
However, as the saying goes, it takes two to tango. Industry needs help and support from us, the consumers.
This means buying the right amount of the product you need for the job, properly storing leftovers and appropriately disposing of unwanted material. Even the best-designed recycling programs cannot function well if people don’t utilize them.
Maine has been a forerunner in progressive social, economic and environmental policy, and Mainers are very proud of the abundant natural habitat that this state has to offer. This is why Maine must pass L.D. 1308 and continue to act as a role model with the implementation and expansion of product stewardship programs.
L.D. 1308 would represent another small step toward sustainable living, helping all who live in our global community to improve our lives and increase the security of future generations.
Michael Boardman is a resident of Portland.