Testimony Neither for Nor Against LD 1645, An Act To Reduce Plastic Packaging Waste
Sarah Nichols, Sustainable Maine Director
Senator Brenner, Representative Gramlich, and members of the Joint Standing Committee on Environment and Natural Resources, my name is Sarah Nichols, and I am the Sustainable Maine Director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine (NRCM). I appreciate this opportunity to offer comments neither for nor against LD 1645.
Plastic pollution is a major threat to our natural environment, climate, and public health. Plastic waste is littering our waters, forests, and open spaces, choking wildlife, and making its way into the food web. A growing body of scientific research shows that plastic breaks down into hard-to-detect microplastics, and the toxic chemicals used to make plastic have harmful human health impacts. To make matters worse, the production of plastic creates greenhouse gas emissions that exacerbate the climate crisis.
Maine has led the nation in tackling plastic pollution, with bans on single-use plastic bags and foam food containers, and a new law enacted in July 2021 that requires big corporations and manufacturers to help pay for the cost of managing their wasteful packaging, much of it plastic. And our work is not nearly done.
However, NRCM is not convinced that LD 1645 takes the right policy approach to get us where we need to go regarding responsible use of plastics. While we agree with the intent of the bill to eliminate the use of certain types of problematic plastics that were identified by members of the US Plastics Pact, we have several concerns about the bill:
First, it would be extremely difficult for retailers to comply with this bill if it became law because they would have little way of knowing if an item on their shelves is a “prohibited plastic” that contains non-detectable pigments, is made of polyethylene terephthalate glycol, or was manufactured using antimony or cobalt as a processing aid or additive, among other things on the prohibited plastic packaging list.
Second, it would be very difficult for the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to enforce. The DEP is directed to enforce the bill, but only when it “has reason to believe” that a prohibited plastic is being sold or distributed in the state. But how would the DEP develop this “reason to believe” information? Would DEP need to conduct routine inspections statewide, and product testing?
If such prohibited plastics are found in Maine stores, or believed to be sold through on-line retailers, the DEP is then given a perplexing level of flexibility about how to enforce the ban. LD 1645 says that the Department may direct the manufacturer or distributor of the product to provide a certificate to the Department regarding the product, or it may notify the distributor to take certain notification actions. But the DEP “may” equally decide not to take these enforcement actions. The bill says that the Department “may develop rules” for the administration, implementation, and enforcement of the bill, but that means that the Department is equally free not to develop such rules. This vague and ambiguous guidance would leave the DEP in a difficult position of having enforcement responsibilities that it could pursue, or not, and no new resources or staff to carry it out – assuming the “may” language avoids a fiscal note.
Additionally, we are concerned that LD 1645 could lead to an increase in the use of compostable plastic, but NRCM is not convinced that this is necessarily the best alternative to other types of packaging.¹ Our state does not currently have the infrastructure in place to sustainably manage compostable packaging material and it often ends up contaminating the recycling streams. Also composting packaging along with food waste may limit the benefits of a successful composting operation.² We believe that any problematic plastic packaging swaps should be with reusable packaging or less-toxic materials that have a robust recycling infrastructure in place.
Finally, we believe there may be simpler ways to ban the use of certain types of problematic plastics used for certain functions, and to do so in a more focused and enforceable manner. For example, the Committee could decide to add polystyrene foam packaging materials to Maine’s existing polystyrene foam ban for food containers.
Thank you for your consideration of our comments, and for your continued support of policies that reduce plastic pollution.
1 NRCM Blog:“5 Reasons We’re Not Crazy About Compostable Food Ware” https://www.nrcm.org/blog/5-reasons-not-crazy-about-compostable-food-ware/
2“A Message from Composters Serving Oregon: Why We Don’t Want Compostable Packaging and Serviceware” https://static1.squarespace.com/static/5a7a30710abd046ac76433a4/t/5c8fd9084785d38b6cf60fe9/1552931082908/compostable_packaging_update_3-15.pdf