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Maine Becomes First State To Make Businesses Pay For Packaging Waste

Empty boxes are stacked in the packaging department at an Amazon Fulfillment Center in England on Nov. 28, 2013. (Andrew Yates/AFP/Getty Images)
Empty boxes are stacked in the packaging department at an Amazon Fulfillment Center in England on Nov. 28, 2013. (Andrew Yates/AFP/Getty Images)

Maine Gov. Janet Mills has signed a first-in-the-nation bill that will shift the cost of disposing packaging materials away from Maine communities and onto the companies that create them.

Conservation groups cheered the passage of the bill on Tuesday.

Sarah Nichols of the Natural Resources Council of Maine says when the program gets going it will provide millions of dollars to Maine towns and cities that have struggled to fund recycling programs in recent years.

It’s become more and more expensive for Maine communities to recycle their trash. State officials estimate that it costs them more than $15 million to dispose of packaging waste each year.

“I know that a lot of towns were waiting to see if this law was going to pass to see if they could continue to recycle, and this bill is really sending the message that help is on the way and to hang on a little bit longer," Nichols says.

Nichols also says the program could encourage businesses to reduce the amount of waste that goes into their packaging.

"Maybe companies won’t be inclined to ship you something tiny in a box wrapped in another box, all stuffed with plastic bags, because they’ll have to pay for that, not somebody else. It really puts the responsibility where it belongs," Nichols says.

The legislation signed by Gov. Mills will create what's called an extended producer responsibility program, or EPR, for packaging waste. It will charge a fee to manufacturers of waste, and a stewardship organization will redirect that funding to local recycling efforts.

The bill includes some exemptions for businesses that make less than $5 million in gross annual revenue during the previous year.

Some European countries and Canadian provinces have already adopted the approach. A few other states have also considered similar legislation this year.

However, some business and packaging groups opposed the Maine bill. They've argued it could increase the cost of goods for Maine consumers.

And on Tuesday, bill co-sponsor Sen. Rick Bennett, R-Oxford said on Facebook that opponents of the bill planned to meet Wednesday to discuss a people's veto effort, according to the Bangor Daily New

This story is a production of the New England News Collaborative. It was originally published by Maine Public Radio on July 13, 2021.

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