Maine Makes Companies Pay For Their Plastic Packaging

Image: Shutterstock

by Ashira Morris, ODP Staff Writer

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

  • Producers will be required to cover the cost of recycling or disposal, a cost currently paid by residents.
  • The new bill makes “extended producer responsibility” the law: packaging producers be charged for collecting, recycling, and disposing of what they make.
  • The more wasteful the packaging, the more the companies 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 telling people it’s their job to recycle, even as they put their products in single-use — and effectively not recyclable — packages. They had little motivation to change their game, but 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.

The Nitty Gritty of How Extended Producer Responsibility Works: Extended producer responsibility has been used by countries in Europe and in Canada, but the Maine law is the first in the U.S. Here’s how it will play out in Maine:

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

In Oregon, there’s also 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 U.S. recycling programs became more expensive after China stopped accepting American waste in 2018, which forced some cities to stop their programs altogether

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