Maine’s intent to create a first-in-the-nation recycling reform program to force private companies to pay for cleaning up packaging materials is subject to two competing bills in the State House.

The state has developed plans for an “extended producer responsibility program” for packaging over the past two years. It would require big product makers to pay some local taxpayer recycling costs, and for recycling education and infrastructure. Five Canadian provinces and many European Union countries have had similar packaging material programs for years, but Maine could be the first state in the nation to implement its own system. At least nine states were set to consider packaging bills this year.

One of Maine’s bills, L.D. 1541, would empower the Department of Environmental Protection to contract with an organization to run the program and require companies to reimburse communities for the cost of disposing of materials that are not easily recyclable. It is an updated version of a proposal that received support from the committee before dying after the Legislature abruptly adjourned last year.

A second measure, L.D. 1471, would allow product makers to establish an independent, state-approved stewardship organization to manage payments to local governments and invest in new recycling infrastructure. Big manufacturers support that approach, which they say mirrors programs in other parts of the world.

Supporters of the original bill allege the industry’s proposal lacks the kind of regulation and enforcement a program needs and is an attempt to distract and complicate the issue for lawmakers.

Maine taxpayers pay at least $16 million a year to manage packaging materials, about 30 percent of the state’s waste stream, according to the Department of Environmental Protection.

Soaring recycling costs in recent years, blamed on the Chinese government’s refusal to accept contaminated U.S. waste for recycling, has led some communities to cut back or cancel their recycling programs.

Similar programs internationally have increased recycling rates and pushed companies to use less wasteful products, supporters say. Still, some costs would likely be shifted to consumers under such a program.

Environmental groups, individuals and local governments were among more than two dozen testifying in favor of Grohoski’s bill at a five-hour public hearing in front of the Legislature’s Committee on Environment and Natural Resources on Monday.

Companies subject to the state’s program oppose the bill, arguing its terms are poorly defined, measuring and tracking materials is too difficult, it has too little room for producer engagement and could encourage landfilling materials instead of increased recycling.

The process outlined in L.D. 1541 is merely a tax used to subsidize existing municipal solid waste programs, not a true extended producer responsibility program.

The industry proposal is opposed by environmental groups and other parties including the DEP, which testified the bill “would not effectively address the management of packaging waste in Maine, has the potential to disrupt the state’s solid waste handling systems, and may improperly delegate certain functions and authority to a stewardship organization.”

Megan Diver

Megan has worked in Maine politics for more than ten years and all of her professional career, having served in many roles for elected officials (including former Secretary of State Charlie Summers), in-house with the Maine Association of REALTORS®, legislative specialist at Pierce Atwood LLP providing lobbying services and support to Pierce Atwood’s government relations clients and most recently senior government relations specialist at the Maine State Chamber of Commerce. Megan currently is the Vice President at the Maine Energy Marketers Association, utilizing her vast knowledge and legislative experience at the State House to represent MEMA on policies relating to the Association and its members.