“This new law assures every Maine community that help with recycling and lowering the property tax burden is on the way,” the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Nicole Grohoski (D-Ellsworth), said in a statement.
Sarah Nichols, director of the Sustainable Maine Program at the Natural Resources Council of Maine, predicted that many other states will soon follow suit. Across the country, 10 states including New York and California have considered similar legislation this year. In Oregon, a bill establishing EPR for packaging awaits the signature of Democratic governor Kate Brown.
“We are the first domino to fall,” Nichols said.
EPR for packaging has been put into practice throughout Europe and in several Canadian provinces, including Maine neighbor Quebec. Many U.S. states already have EPR programs for goods that are hard to dispose of, such as batteries, mattresses and medicines.
Maine has developed a reputation for leading the way on environmental legislation since passing one of the first bottle bills in the 1970s. Almost 20 years ago, the state passed the first laws requiring manufacturers to pay for recycling electronics, including computers and televisions. And in 2019, Maine’s legislature put a ban on foam food containers, which will soon go into effect.
The new packaging legislation was opposed by some business groups — including the Maine Grocers and Food Producers Association — that were concerned it would affect the supply chain and increase the cost of groceries. The law includes exemptions for small businesses and nonprofit organizations.
Nichols, who said estimates from the state’s Department of Environmental Protection show that taxpayers shell out at least $16 million annually to recycle or dispose of packaging, said she hopes companies will soon be required to shoulder the burden of other environmental challenges.
“Fossil fuel companies need to take responsibility,” Nichols said, “not just tell people to drive electric cars or turn off the lights.”
Recycling programs have been hit by China’s 2018 decision to ban U.S. materials and, in many Maine communities, by the abrupt closure of a state-of-the-art recycling plant.
Michael Gilmartin, who helped lead an effort to establish a recycling center in coastal Trenton only to see it close under financial pressure a couple of years ago, was optimistic that the new law would bring recycling back.
“It’s wonderful news,” Gilmartin said, as he made plans to discuss reopening Trenton’s recycling site at a selectmen’s meeting Tuesday evening.
Across the causeway on Mount Desert Island, Mark Worcester, owner of the transfer station that takes Trenton’s trash, said he will be ready when recycling starts up again.
“We have all the machinery and signs,” Worcester said.