Maine Makes Companies Pay For Their Plastic Packaging

Maine Makes Companies Pay For Their Plastic Packaging

Last week, Maine became the first state to pass a law requiring companies to pay for the full lifecycle of their products.

  • Producers will be required to cover the cost of recycling or disposal, a cost currently paid by residents through tax dollars.
  • The new bill makes "extended producer responsibility" the law: packaging producers will be charged for collecting, recycling, and disposing of what they make.
  • The more wasteful the packaging, the more companies will pay.

Right now, the state estimates taxpayers spend at least $16 million every year to recycle or dispose of packaging, a cost that will now be passed on to companies.

Why This Matters

Corporations have spent years and millions of dollars telling people it's their job to recycle, even as they opt to place their products in single-use (and effectively unrecyclable) packaging. With little motivation to change their game in the past, Maine's bill holds companies accountable for their flood of plastic by taking on their bottom line. Packaging makes up about 40% of Maine's waste, and the new bill could also motivate companies to design more recyclable options.

PBS: How the Plastics Industry Used Recycling to Fend Off Bans, March 31, 2021.

The Nitty Gritty of How Extended Producer Responsibility Works

Extended producer responsibility (EPR) has been used by countries in Europe and in Canada, but Maine's new law is a first in the US. Here's how it will play out in Maine:

  • Producers will pay into a stewardship organization. How much they pay will depend on the quantity of various materials they sell.
  • Fees will be set by the state's Department of Environmental Protection. Different packaging will have different costs based on the dollar amount of collecting and processing it.
  • That collected money then goes back to cities and towns to cover the cost of their local recycling and waste management.

In Oregon, there's a similar producer responsibility bill waiting to be signed into law by Gov. Kate Brown. Ten other states, including New York and California have proposed legislation, and there's a possibility for national legislation through the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act introduced last year.

Holding companies financially responsible is especially important since US recycling programs became more expensive after China stopped accepting American waste in 2018, forcing some cities to stop their programs altogether.

Greenpeace: Wasteminster - A Downing Street Disaster, May 17, 2021.