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Waste Disposal Laws Overhaul Proposed by Maine Legislator

A recycling bin next to a trash bin in Biddeford, Maine.

Studies indicate that every person in Maine generates at least four pounds of trash a day. That adds up to millions of pounds that to be disposed of, somehow, every year.

Lawmakers are gearing up to take a second look at how the state can do a better job at managing its waste...and increasing its recycling rate.

Maine has not looked at its solid waste laws for 15 years. Sen. Tom Saviello, a republican from Wilton says "its time."

"We set some recycling goals in those, we aren't coming close to meeting those goals so as a result we have to look at why and what can we do to help them," he says.

Saviello serves as co-chair of the legislature's Environment and Natural Resources Committee, which earlier this year enlisted the help of the Mitchell Center at the University of Maine to look at how other states and municipalities have improved their recycling rates. Maine's goal of reaching 50 percent by last year fell short, and is now estimated to be at 35 percent.

The Mitchell Center's Travis Blackmer says some communities are adopting increased disposal fees, and the banning of certain packaging. "We have things like the polystyrene foam ban in Portland, polyethylene bags in Westport Connecticut, York recently, York Maine," says Blackmer. "California as well. And then things like single serve PT bottles being banned in Concord, Massachusetts."

The panel is also looking at updating laws governing trash-to-energy generation, in which wood, paper and other combustibles are taken from the waste stream and burned to generate electricity. Saviello expects the final package to be controversial.

"This bill is the kitchen sink, it's got everything it. Some things people are not going to like, for example we already know the Ag people don’t like the fact we are going to add apple cider and blueberry juice into this thing."

Meaning they won't like the idea of adding the containers for those products to the list of returnables, and assessing a deposit. But committee members say the clock is ticking, and the state could run out of licensed landfill space in 15 years. That's why they're planning to take up the proposal in the next session, that starts in January.

Journalist Mal Leary spearheads Maine Public's news coverage of politics and government and is based at the State House.