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Legislation Would Require Companies To Pay For Disposal Of Packaging In Maine

Willis Ryder Arnold
Maine Public
Workers at the ecomaine waste disposal facility in Portland.

Recycling costs have gone up for Maine communities in recent years, and that’s forced many of them to burn or bury their trash.

Now, state lawmakers in the Environment and Natural Resources Committee are considering two bills that would help towns to safely dispose of a very common type of waste: plastic and cardboard packaging.

Both measures would force the companies that generate all that packaging to pay a fee for its disposal in Maine. That funding would then help support local recycling programs.

Rep. Nicole Grohoski, an Ellsworth Democrat who introduced one of the bills during a public hearing Monday, says that approach would pressure companies such as Amazon to use less packaging in the goods they sell to Maine consumers — and in some cases, to use safer materials.

"We’re able to try phase out toxins in our plastics, for instance, and in other products, by having the producers that are using those chemicals pay a little more than people who are using, say, corrugated cardboard that doesn’t have any additives in it that we’re worried about,” she says.

Advocates say that similar programs — known in the waste industry as “extended producer responsibility” — have helped boost recycling rates for packaging in other countries, but no other state has yet started one. New York is considering its own extended producer responsibility legislation.

The Natural Resources of Council of Maine supports Grohoski's bill, which would be overseen by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection. State officials estimate that packaging accounts for 30 to 40% of the waste that ends up in Maine.

Maine DEP has not taken a position on Grohoski’s bill, LD 1541, but the agency has suggested some amendments. The Maine DEP previously supported legislation that had a similar concept as that bill.

The state helps to administer several other similar stewardship programs for more specialized types of waste, including bottles, rechargeable batteries, electronic waste and some products containing mercury.

Companies that sell goods in Maine opposed that previous legislation because of its costs. But some of them are now backing a similar bill from Democratic State Sen. James Dill, of Old Town. The Maine DEP opposes Dill’s legislation, LD 1471, because it would leave too much oversight of the program to companies.

Still, some companies are opposed to both bills.

Amy Volk, a former Republican state senator from Biddeford who works for her family’s corrugated packaging business, said that the added disposal fees could lead to layoffs or hurt their ability to compete with regional competitors.

Curtis Picard, president and CEO of the Retail Association of Maine, raised several concerns, including that the program fees would be passed onto consumers and that some of the tracking requirements in Grohoski’s bill could be onerous for stores, and he said that larger retailers would prefer multiple states in the region work together to create a consistent set of extended producer responsibility rules.