Legislatures in Maine and Oregon have passed what would be the first comprehensive laws in the U.S. requiring companies to directly pay for the recycling of plastics, paper and other packaging, although industry groups are opposing the measures.
The laws, known as extended producer responsibility, would be phased-in over several years as detailed rules are written.
Maine's legislature passed its version July 2 as its session wound down for the year, but the packaging industry trade group Ameripen in a statement urged Democratic Gov. Janet Mills to veto it.
Executive Director Dan Felton said Ameripen agrees that packaging producers should have financial responsibility but believes Maine's legislation, called LD 1541, gives too much power to state regulators.
The St. Paul, Minn.-based group — which represents all types of packaging materials and includes large plastics firms such as Berry Global, Charter Nex Films, Dart Container and Dow Inc. — pushed an alternative bill known as LD 1471 that would give more authority to companies in running an EPR system.
"Ameripen supports producers sharing 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 as putting "all decision-making authority with the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, creating an overly bureaucratic system that will increase costs for the people of Maine."
But environmental groups like Maine Conservation Voters kicked off an effort July 2 urging residents to tell Mills to sign the law, pointing to higher costs of recycling born by local governments in the state. Supporters of EPR laws in both states pointed to more financial burdens for cities following China's decision in 2018 to stop taking exports of low-grade plastics and paper recyclables from the United States and other countries.
"Maine towns need relief from the rising costs of recycling," MCV said. "Extended producer responsibility for packaging would make manufacturers — not Maine taxpayers — responsible for the cost of recycling these materials, making recycling more effective, sustainable, and equitable."
Other plastics industry groups, including the American Chemistry Council, the Plastics Industry Association and the Flexible Packaging Association, opposed LD-1541, calling it a "blank check" for governments.
But the 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 pay about the same per person cost for recycling as Maine residents.