by Matt Prindiville, NRCM Toxics Policy Advocate
Good morning Senator Bromley, Representative Smith and Members of the Committee on Business, Research and Economic Development. My name is Matt Prindiville. I am the Toxics Policy Advocate for the Natural Resources Council of Maine (NRCM). NRCM is Maine’s leading, membership-supported environmental advocacy organization. We represent over 10,000 members and supporters and work on a variety of issues including energy policy, land conservation, river restoration and preventing toxic pollution.
As some of you may know, NRCM was one of the driving forces behind Maine’s original bottle bill which passed by citizen’s referendum way back in 1976. We’re happy to be here in support of LD 1657 today, and we thank Representative Hinck for bringing this issue to the attention of the Committee. I would like to speak briefly about the environmental benefits of bottle bills and then, because household hazardous waste (HHW) issues have normally fallen under the purview of the Committee on Natural Resources, I thought it might be helpful to give the Committee some background on HHW and the present need for state funding.
As recent history has shown, bottle bills have provided widespread environmental benefits including litter reduction, and energy and resource conservation. These bills divert significant quantities of trash and turn what was previously waste into valuable commodities, creating jobs and opportunities for innovative businesses. Bottle bills also shift the costs of litter cleanup, recycling and waste disposal from government and taxpayers to the producers and consumers of beverage containers, involving the industry that creates a wasteful byproduct, namely the unwanted beverage container, in the disposal or recycling of that product.
Many others have testified to the merits of increasing the deposit and refund value, tying it to inflation as well as including aseptic containers, and we’re supportive of these provisions as a means of increasing recycling rates, including currently uncovered products that make up a significant amount of the waste stream and making redemption a viable commercial opportunity for small business owners. So I won’t go into more detail about these issues, but I would like to discuss the other provision of the bill, which would use Maine’s unclaimed deposits to fund local household hazardous waste programs.
Maine’s HHW problem can be summarized fairly simply. The first part of the problem is that Maine residents generate large quantities of toxic or otherwise hazardous materials. Research done by the University of Maine’s Department of Resource, Economics and Policy, determined that Mainers collectively dispose of approximately 20 million pounds of hazardous waste with their trash every year (1). HHW collection events typically gather substantial quantities of pesticides, bleach, solvents, oil-based paints, paint strippers, chemical cleaning compounds, disinfectants, air fresheners, waste oil, antifreeze and other hazardous household products. Many of these compounds are either flammable, poisonous, reactive, explosive, carcinogenic or some combination of all the above. When handled improperly, these materials can threaten the health and safety of municipal trash handlers, damage sewer systems, contaminate groundwater and drinking water, and cause harm to the environment and public health.
The second part of the problem is simply that too few of us have a convenient place to take unused quantities of these toxic materials for proper disposal. Currently, municipalities are responsible for HHW collection programs as a service to their residents. To be effective, municipal-run collection programs must be readily accessible and often require promotion and education. Unfortunately, very few municipalities in Maine are able to offer well-run programs.
Where such programs do exist, the necessary funding comes from local tax revenues, typically raised via property taxes. For example, in 2002 Bangor spent $33,000 of locally generated tax revenue to fund the city’s household hazardous waste collection program. The cost for all 16 communities that participate in the regional collection program in that area was $76,000.
But most towns apparently find it too costly or too troublesome to adequately address this problem. A town that collects HHW needs to not only dedicate space and personnel at the collection point but also assume generator status for the materials brought in. Contracting with hazardous materials specialists, like Clean Harbors, to take the stuff away is frequently the most costly part of the effort.
Four years ago, NRCM supported, and would still support, the concept of a “user fee” to fund HHW programs. As that measure was conceived, fees of 20 cents per gallon of paint and container of pesticide would raise $500,000 annually (Unused paints and pesticides make up the largest portion of the HHW stream). DEP estimated that this would allow the State to defray approximately half of the annual municipal operating costs for household hazardous waste programs and enable some expansion of the programs. The measure passed in Committee but foundered in Appropriations. Instead, FAME money provided short-term support, but it was only a temporary solution. We understand that this money was put to good use but has since been exhausted.
We’re not alone in dealing with this problem. States all over the country face this same issue. Many long ago put in place statewide programs to fund and facilitate local collection programs. Typically the programs are funded directly out of general tax revenues, or money is taken from oil spill pollution liability funds, state solid waste programs, or from such funds as the unclaimed revenues from bottle bills.
Out of the 11 states that currently have refundable bottle bills, 5 currently use the unclaimed deposits on bottle bills for dedicated funding for the public good, providing grants for a variety of public service and environmental initiatives (2). In Maine, turning these revenues over for dedicated HHW funding would provide a significant revenue stream to support and expand current programs and initiatives.
We encourage the Committee to pass LD 1657 to help defray the costs and provide assistance to municipalities who, by default, grapple with this problem. Thank you for the opportunity to testify. I would be pleased to answer any questions you may have.
1 A.C. Files & G.K. Kriner, “Cost Analysis for Household Hazardous Waste Collection: A Final Report”, January 2002.
2 “Bottle Bill Resource Guide.” Container Recycling Inst. http://www.bottlebill.org/legislation/usa/allstates.htm