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New England News

Maine First In The Nation To Hold Corporations Accountable For Recycling Fees

Recycling
Separate your paper, plastic, compost, glass and metal...

Maine will soon hold large corporations responsible for the cost of recycling their packaging. In a first-in-the-nation move, large companies that sell goods in the New England state will have to foot the recycling bill.

Main(e) Things To Know About The Law:

  • The law applies to large corporations, not small businesses. This means companies that make less than $5 million in revenue will not be held responsible for the fees.
  • The actual rollout of the law will likely not happen until 2022 or 2023.
  • The money generated will go toward municipalities. They can use the funds to pay for infrastructure or education.

All Things Considered host Peter Biello spoke with Bangor Daily News reporter Caitlin Andrews about what this law means for Maine and the rest of the country. A transcript of their conversation is below.

Peter Biello: This is All Things Considered on NHPR. I'm Peter Biello. The state of Maine has taken a step toward holding large corporations accountable for the environmental impacts of their business. The state is now the first in the nation to pass a law that requires corporations to pay for the cost of recycling the packaging of their products. Caitlin Andrews is a reporter for the Bangor Daily News. She covers state politics and health care, and she's here to talk about this new law. Caitlin, thank you very much for speaking with me.

Caitlin Andrews: Thanks for having me, Peter.

Peter Biello: Caitlin, how exactly will this law work? So if I buy a toy, let's say, wrapped in plastic from a Maine Target, what happens?

Caitlin Andrews: Ok, so this is basically an Extended Producer Responsibility Bill, which is that if you use it to package your products, you have to pay for it to be disposed of. So, the idea is that that toy wrapped in plastic, that plastic would then theoretically go to a recycling program in your town to be disposed of. Now, the payment for that disposal ideally would come from the person who produced or used that packaging, i.e., if you decide that you're going to wrap your toy in plastic, you have to pay into an independently managed fund that will then go to municipalities to help pay for its disposal.

Peter Biello: Under this law, small businesses are exempt, correct?

Caitlin Andrews: There are certain limits to it. So, if you sold perishable goods that use less than 15 tons of packaging, you would be exempt if you use less than one ton of packaging in general, or if you made less than $5 million in total gross revenue during the prior year. So, yes, [it's] generally geared toward larger producers, which is certainly something that Maine was concerned about, was making sure they were holding larger producers accountable rather than small businesses.

Peter Biello: So, when those corporations pay for the cost of recycling of their products, the state gets the money. How is the state going to use the funds they receive?

Caitlin Andrews: So, they are going to basically contract out somebody who is going to independently manage these funds and then those funds — I believe municipalities will have to sign on to a program — but then municipalities will be able to get some of that money that will help them either begin a recycling program or help them expand it.

Peter Biello: Proponents of this law say it will save taxpayers money. How would it do that?

Caitlin Andrews: So, like everywhere, recycling has become more and more expensive, especially at the local level. It certainly hasn't gone away yet. But Maine has had a goal since the 1980s of having all of its solid waste generated- or at least 50 percent of its solid waste generated, currently, right now it's at 36 percent. The idea is that rather than having to manage these programs all on your own, this money will help them relieve some of that burden.

Peter Biello: Some may say that won't stores simply increase their prices to cover their costs?

Caitlin Andrews: Yeah, that is certainly a main argument that opposition to this bill made, which included packaging groups, the Maine State Chamber of Commerce. Their argument was that in response, people could raise their prices, something they certainly didn't want to see happen during pandemic recovery. Whether there is any proof they would actually do that, that seems to be unclear.

Peter Biello: So what about those towns that don't have any recycling program at all? Are they now incentivized to come up with one so that they could apply for some of the state funding?

Caitlin Andrews: Yeah, I think that's certainly the hope that they will look at this as a way of making it more affordable. Certainly, municipalities have the always challenging costs of maintaining roads and bridges, of keeping up their schools. But the idea is that if they don't have a program, maybe they could look at this money and say this makes it more affordable for us.

Peter Biello: What has the reception to this law been like in just the past few days?

Caitlin Andrews: Well, certainly environmental advocates are very excited. They see this as twofold things. One, it is seen as critical to making sure that local recycling programs survive, and two, they see it as a way to really hold packaging companies accountable.

Peter Biello: Caitlin, do you get the sense that other states are watching Maine to see how this law works and perhaps if it goes well, those other states might consider adopting something similar?

Caitlin Andrews: It's very possible. There were a handful of states that were considering similar laws. I know definitely that Oregon passed a similar law in both chambers. So certainly I think everybody will be watching to see how its rollout is. I know proponents certainly leaned on the idea that most of the provinces in Canada, Japan, Europe, South Korea, have similar programs that they say works well for them. And of course, Maine already has different versions of Extended Producer Responsibility for products like bottles, batteries, cell phones, things of that nature,

Peter Biello: Caitlin Andrews is a reporter for the Bangor Daily News. Thank you very much for speaking with me.

Caitlin Andrews: Good talking to you, Peter.