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Maine passes nation’s first EPR bill for packaging

L.D. 1541 will require producers of packaged goods sold in Maine to finance municipal recycling programs.

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Maine is the first state in the United States to require producers of packaged goods sold in the state to finance the maintenance and expansion of municipal recycling programs. The extended producer responsibility (EPR) bill also will provide funds to improve recycling in the state through education and infrastructure investments. 

The bipartisan bill, L.D. 1541, was introduced by Maine State Representative Nicole Grohoski and was signed into law July 12 by Maine Gov. Janet Mills. State lawmakers had been looking into this bill for the last few months.

“I’m proud that once again, Maine is a national leader when it comes to commonsense environmental protections. This new law assures every Maine community that help with recycling and lowering the property tax burden is on the way,” Grohoski says. “It’s time for packaging producers to take responsibility for their waste stream in the Pine Tree State, as they do in more than 40 other countries and regions worldwide.” 

Under the new law, Maine’s Department of Environmental Protection (ME DEP) will select and contract with a stewardship organization to operate a packaging stewardship program that will reimburse and assist municipalities in providing recycling services through the state. Brand owners selling packaged goods must pay fees on all packaging materials to the stewardship organization to fund the system based on the costs of recycling for each material, including infrastructure investments or resident education needed to capture materials statewide. The fee structure, which will be determined by ME DEP rule with multistakeholder input, will also include financial incentives for recyclable packaging. 

Additionally, producers will assess the statewide recycling system to determine the funds needed for the program, collection and recycling infrastructure gaps in the state and consumer education needed to ensure robust recycling. The bill also enables packaging producers to establish, fund and operate “alternative collection programs” to facilitate reuse and recycling of these materials.

“With this new law, Maine residents will save millions of dollars and finally be on a path to a stable recycling system,” says Scott Cassel, CEO and founder of the Product Stewardship Institute (PSI), which is based in Boston. “It will also provide producers with the financial incentive to make more sustainable packaging.”

According to a news release from PSI, the organization has promoted EPR for packaging for the past 15 years and developed a model bill that has informed legislation introduced in eight states, including Maine. Maine’s bill was driven in large part by Sarah Nichols, sustainable Maine director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine (NRCM), which is an environmental advocacy group in the state.

According to a news release from NRCM, ME DEP estimated in a 2019 report that it costs the state’s municipalities between $16 million and $17.5 million each year to manage packaging scrap through recycling or disposal.

“Maine is sending a strong signal that it’s time for big corporations and brands to do their part to curb plastic pollution and reduce wasteful packaging,” Nichols says. “The plastic industry and multinational corporations have reaped billions while they let plastic waste and packaging drive up costs for taxpayers and pollute Maine’s environment. This new law will help create the change we need to make recycling more effective, reduce single-use plastics and bring relief to Maine’s small towns.”