Senator Brenner, Representative Tucker, 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 testify in strong support of LD 1541. The language is very similar to LD 2104, which was voted majority ought-to-pass by this Committee in the 129th Legislature but unfortunately did not receive a full vote by the 129th House and Senate due to the Covid-19 shutdown.
Maine’s municipal recycling programs are still struggling because of high costs to taxpayers and too much packaging; it is more urgent than ever to support and improve our recycling programs through passage of LD 1541.
According to the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), about 30-40% of the materials being managed by municipalities are packaging waste. Maine taxpayers pay at least
$16 million each year to manage packaging material through recycling or disposal.1 The DEP also estimates that it costs an average of 67% more to recycle than dispose of packaging in the state.2 Maine taxpayers and towns have no control over how much packaging material is landing in our waste stream. They simply pay the bill. Some towns can’t afford to do so anymore and are having to curb or cancel their recycling programs because disposal in a landfill or waste-to- energy plant is cheaper than recycling. Further, they are receiving a lot of packaging material that isn’t readily recyclable in Maine.
Our current system is broken and needs to be reformed, and that’s what LD 1541 will do. Producers of packaging currently have no responsibility to assist with the recycling and disposal costs of their packaging, and they have no incentive to design their packaging so that it is more readily recyclable. LD 1541 addresses these fundamental flaws in our current recycling system that will only get worse if not addressed now.
The bill internalizes the cost of end-of-life recycling for packaging waste by shifting these expenses to the responsible parties, the manufacturers themselves. Taxpayers should not shoulder this burden. Shifting the costs away from taxpayers will literally enable towns to retain their recycling programs. With passage of LD 1541, producer funding also would be available for education and infrastructure development.
Enacting LD 1541 is the single most important action that Maine lawmakers can take to greatly increase recycling rates in Maine:
Although Maine established a recycling rate goal of 50% more than three decades ago, our current recycling rate is only 36%. In contrast, recycling rates exceed 50% in jurisdictions that have adopted Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) for Packaging laws such as the one that would be established by LD 1541. There are five provinces in Canada that have stewardship programs for packaging materials. As part of an expert technical briefing to this Committee on January 22nd, 2020, Resa Dimino, Senior Consultant at Resource Recycling Solutions, presented data showing that:
- Residential recycling rates in Canadian provinces immediately increased by an average of 8% following adoption of EPR for Packaging laws;
- Average recycling rates in these provinces after 2-4 years increased by 17%; and
- Average recycling rates after 8-10 years increased by 29%.
Further, data from jurisdictions where producers are responsible for recycling costs shows that the overall total cost per capita for recycling is about the same as it is here in Maine, where we have a taxpayer-funded system, yet those EPR jurisdictions have much higher recycling rates. This evidence is illustrated in the attached table, which shows that producer-funded recycling programs are more cost-effective than Maine’s taxpayer-funded system and lead to much higher recycling rates.
LD 1541 has a workable stewardship model, with fairness for all stakeholders and transparency at its core:
- The DEP would contract with a single stewardship organization (SO) to equitably fulfill the responsibilities of the program, rather than let producers set up a system that works only for them. The primary role of the SO would be to collect fees from producers of packaging based on the weight and type of materials; and then use those funds to reimburse municipalities for the costs they have incurred for recycling packaging. The SO would also provide technical assistance to both producers and municipalities to maximize overall program (Section 3)
- To have a transparent, fair, and effective stewardship model, the details of the program including how fees would be set for producers and how reimbursements are made to municipalities; what materials are readily recyclable; as well as overall program goals would be done by a public Department rulemaking (Section 13)
- The program is designed to continually improve over time as performance data is Information provided in annual reports to the DEP from the SO would include the total amount of packaging material that are collected by municipalities for recycling, and how much of that material is recycled. There would be regular audits of Maine’s waste, recycling, and litter to ground truth the figures provided by producers and give the State more insight into our waste problem so that we can continually improve the system over time. (Sections 5 and 13)
LD 1541 creates a municipal reimbursement program, with financial and technical assistance to all participating municipalities:
- Participation in the EPR program would not be mandatory for municipalities. If a municipality chooses to participate, it would need to recycle each readily recyclable material, meaning material that has a reliable market, at a minimum; and provide necessary information to the SO in order to be (Section 9)
- Participating municipalities would be reimbursed annually for their cost of recycling packaging materials that they have already paid; so there is no compelling reason to require that they spend their reimbursement money on a specific (Section 10)
- Each municipality would receive technical assistance from the SO for increasing access and education and improving recycling collection rates. (Section 3, A1b)
- Grants would be awarded each year, primarily using funds generated from producer fees for packaging that is not readily recyclable. Grants will prioritize projects that support Maine’s Solid Waste Management hierarchy under section 2101—which begins with waste reduction, reuse, and recycling. (Section 11)
LD 1541 protects Maine’s small businesses:
- The bill exempts small producers who earn less than $2 million in gross revenue or sell less than one ton of packaging material to consumers in Maine, or businesses that do the majority of sales through salvage and liquidations, like (Section 2)
- The bill also creates financial certainty for low-volume producers, who sell more than one ton but less than 15 tons of These producers could opt to pay a flat fee of no more than $500 per ton of total packaging each year. This provision helps provide smaller companies with a clear understanding of their maximum financial obligations under the law. (Section 1, Section 6c, Section 13, A 1b)
- The SO would assist the producers in helping them reduce fees from changes in packaging design elements. (Section 3, A 1a)
LD 1541 creates the right incentives for more waste reduction, reuse, and recycling:
- Producer payments will be reduced through an “eco-modulated” fee structure, which incentivizes less packaging, reuse of packaging, recycling of packaging, reduced toxicity, and increased post-consumer recycled content in packaging; as well as packaging with clear and accurate disposal instructions or other design characteristics that reduce contamination and consumer (Section 6D)
- Program performance standards will be set through rulemaking that have goals for producers to reduce and improve packaging, municipalities to increase recycling access and education, and overall program goals including increasing recycling collection and actual recycling of that material (Section 13 A,5). Performance standards will inform how fees are set, where grant funds should be invested, and how to improve the system over
- LD 1541 helps to support recycling markets. Readily recyclable packaging means there is a stable market for that material, and each participating municipality would have to collect everything on that list, which will also work to make education and outreach easier (Section 9A). The bill also creates a financial incentive for producers to use readily recyclable packaging, as well as to use post-consumer recycled content in packaging, which drives demand for materials collected for recycling in Maine (Section 6D).
- In order to move more materials out of the municipal waste stream, the bill allows for alternative collection programs for materials that aren’t readily recycled by This provision will give producers the option of setting up a new collection program as they work to make their packaging more recyclable and help create markets for their packaging within three years. (Section 8)
- The program would increase consumer confidence in recycling. The SO would collect data on material sold into Maine, how much was collected for recycling, and how much of that collected material was indeed recycled (Section 13, A, 5). There would be regular audits of what’s in our waste, recycling, and litter in Maine to ground-truth the figures and provide more insight into how the system can be continually improved over time (Section 3,A, 8).
In closing, I would like to emphasize that LD 1541 is strongly supported by Maine municipalities, people, businesses, and the environmental community.
- Twenty-nine municipalities, representing more than 325,000 Maine residents, have adopted municipal resolutions urging Maine to adopt an EPR for Packaging law (see attached).
- Fifteen Maine businesses support this model of EPR for Packaging, see business sign-on letter attached to my testimony.
- And 2,253 people have signed a petition urging lawmakers to enact an EPR for Packaging law. The petition letter and signatures are attached to the end of my
- LD 1541 is a priority bill for Maine’s Environmental Priorities Coalition, which is a partnership of 32 environmental, conservation, and public health organizations representing more than 100,000 members who work to protect the good health, good jobs, and quality of life that our environment provides.
I appreciate the work of this Committee and urge you to vote Ought to Pass on LD 1541, so that Maine communities and taxpayers receive the support they need to maintain and strengthen recycling in Maine, now and into the future. I would be happy to answer any questions that you may have.