Maine Lawmakers Pass Tough Sustainability Law

Retailers will have additional responsibilities regarding packaging waste.

July 13, 2021

Downtown Augusta, Maine

AUGUSTA, Maine—Maine is about to enact the most far-reaching sustainability law in the nation, dramatically redefining how traditional recycling plans have been structured. If signed by Gov. Janet Mills as expected, the law will make Maine one of the first U.S. state to create an “extended producer responsibility” program for packaging materials. A similar bill recently cleared the Oregon Legislature.

According to CentralMaine.com, Maine’s bill L.D. 1541 follows existing models in Europe and Canada and requires that everyone along the supply chain—including foodservice operators and retailers—will be responsible for handling waste and other packaging, such as plastic, paper and cardboard, and bear the cost of recycling.

Opponents urged Gov. Mills to veto the bill, claiming the way it is structured will give state government too much control over the program and could raise prices on everyday consumer items. The packaging industry supports sharing some financial responsibility for recycling and recovery of its materials, but the bill “creates an overly bureaucratic system that will increase costs for the people of Maine,” said Dan Felton, executive director of Ameripen, a packaging industry trade group.

Supporters of the program believe it will shift responsibility of packaging materials onto producers to encourage them to create less wasteful products. Dozens of countries and at least five Canadian provinces have similar programs.

The current proposal has been in development since 2019. Maine has yet to reach a goal it set three decades ago to recycle 50% of its waste. In 2019, the state’s recycling rate was about 38%, slightly less than two years before, and it cost less to put waste in landfills than it did to recycle it.

According to a recent NACS Magazine article, “Back on the Plastic Attack,” the health concerns generated by COVID-19 raised shoppers’ concerns about sustainable packaging. Businesses are now being urged to prioritize efforts to reduce single-use plastics by consumers, and retailers are adopting sustainable initiatives, such as promoting refillables and offering compostable alternatives to conventional plastics.

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