Maine Will Make Companies Pay for Recycling. Here’s How It Works.
In Maine, packaging products covered by the law represent up to 40 percent of the waste stream.
In both states, a significant benefit of the program is that it will make recycling more consistent across the state. Recycling today is a patchwork, with variations between cities on what can be thrown in the recycling bin.
These programs exist on a spectrum ranging from administration and control of producers to public administration. In Maine, the government is taking the lead, having the final say in how the program will be delivered, including setting fees. In Oregon, the producer responsibility organization is expected to involve manufacturers to a greater extent, including them on an advisory board.
Another key difference is that Maine also requires producers to cover 100% of the recycling costs of its municipalities. Oregon, on the other hand, will require producers to cover about 28% of recycling costs, with municipalities continuing to cover the rest.
Both laws urge companies to reconsider the design and materials used in their packaging. A number of popular consumer products are difficult to recycle, such as disposable coffee cups – they are made of a paper base, but with a plastic liner on the inside and another plastic cover, as well as a cardboard sleeve.
Both Maine and Oregon are considering charging higher rates for packaging that is difficult to recycle and therefore does not have a recycling market or products that contain certain toxic chemicals, such as PFAS.
For many businesses, this may require a change in mindset.
Scott Cassel, founder of the Product Stewardship Institute and former director of waste policy in Massachusetts, described the effect of a dairy company’s decision to switch from a clear plastic milk bottle to an opaque white bottle. Since opaque bottles are more expensive to recycle, the change has cost the government more money. “The choice of their container really matters,” said Mr. Cassel. “The producer of this product had his own reasons, but he did not take into account the cost of the material for the recycling market.
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