Maine, Oregon, the first state to pass Extended Producer Responsibility laws that make companies pay to recycle plastic packaging

Maine and Oregon lawmakers passed the first sweeping laws in the US requiring companies to pay direct for recycling plastic, paper, and other packaging, despite industry groups resisting the measures.

The laws known as extended producer responsibility would be phased in over several years as detailed rules are drawn up.

The Maine Legislature passed its version on July 2 as its session for the year ended, but the Ameripen packaging trade group issued a statement calling on Democratic Governor Janet Mills to veto.

Executive Director Dan Felton said Ameripen agrees that packaging manufacturers should bear financial responsibility, but believes Maine legislation, dubbed LD 1541, gives too much power to state regulators.

The St. Paul, Minnesota-based group, which represents all types of packaging materials and includes major plastics companies such as Berry Global, Charter Nex Films, Dart Containers, and Dow Inc., has tabled an alternative bill called LD 1471 that gives more powers to businesses when operating an EPR system.

“Ameripen supports producers who have some financial responsibility for the recycling and recovery of their packaging materials, but this bill rejects the shared approach to coordination and responsibility between industry and government,” Felton said in a July 2 statement.

He criticized the bill for “shifting all decision-making powers to the Maine Environmental Protection Department, creating an overly bureaucratic system that will increase costs for the Maine people.”

But environmental groups like Maine Conservation Voters launched an initiative on July 2nd urging residents to get Mills to sign the bill, pointing out the higher recycling costs being borne by local governments in the state. Proponents of EPR laws in both states pointed to more financial burdens on cities after China decided in 2018 to stop exporting low-quality plastics and recycled paper from the US and other countries.

“Maine cities need relief from rising recycling costs,” said MCV. “Expanding producer responsibility for packaging would hold manufacturers – not Maine taxpayers – responsible for the cost of recycling these materials, making recycling more effective, sustainable and fair.”

Other groups in the plastics industry, including the American Chemistry Council, the Plastics Industry Association, and the Flexible Packaging Association, rejected LD-1541, calling it a “blank check” for governments.

But lawmakers who wrote LD-1541 said Maine’s statewide recycling rate of 36 percent is half that of Canadian provinces like British Columbia that currently have packaging EPR systems, and that those provinces are roughly Pay the same cost per person for recycling as Maine residents.

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