As Maine communities deal with the collapse of global recycling markets, lawmakers are drafting a first-in-the-nation bill to shift the cost of disposing of packaging material from consumers to the companies that produce it. In bare terms it would function like this: The packaging material producers would establish a third-party organization that would pay fees to municipalities based on the type, amount and design of their packaging.

If municipalities dispose of readily recyclable materials, then producers would repay their costs. The fees could otherwise be spent on outreach, education and infrastructure. But if the materials are not easily recyclable, than producers would pay higher fees to cover disposal costs in landfills or incinerators. The program would cover household items such as cardboard boxes, plastic jugs, wrappings and more, but not printing paper or cans and bottles, which are covered under the state’s bottle deposit law. A bill may be ready for debate by February, but it likely would take at least two years to get the system up and running if it becomes law, said Sarah Nichols, sustainable Maine director at the Natural Resources Council of Maine.

Companies are unlikely to redesign packaging just to service Maine’s small market, but other states could follow its lead, Nichols said. Maine was a pioneer in other product stewardship programs for e-waste, paint and returnable beverage bottles. “I’d say there is zero risk of producers not fulfilling statutory obligations,” she said. “I’m confident that Maine is going to lead the way on this like we have on other programs.”

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Author: Peter McGuire, Portland Press Herald