In 2021, Maine and Oregon became the first states to enact a new program referred to as Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) for plastic packaging. State lawmakers who have yet to hear of EPR likely will in the future, as backers of this policy are now shopping it in other state capitals. These first-in-nation EPR programs for plastic will assess and levy fees on products that use plastic packaging, with the goal to reduce plastic usage, incentivize the use of recyclable plastic, and provide funding for new recycling technology.
“Today, these programs are in place throughout the European Union and in five Canadian provinces, as well as in Australia, Africa and South America,” noted an August Governing Magazine article on the advancement of EPR proposals in the U.S. “The mechanics vary, but the basic concept is that companies that sell products pay fees that help cover the cost of recycling packaging, shifting burden from taxpayers and government to those who are sending these materials onto the market.”
EPR backers market the policy as a way to make producers pay for the cost of recycling, but EPR critics contend that fee costs are actually borne by consumers in the form of inflated prices. EPR advocates, meanwhile, are now pushing for its enactment in more states in 2022 and they are backed by a well-funded coalition that has already had success getting EPR legislation pre-filed for 2022 state legislative sessions. It appears, however, that some EPR proponents are urging legislators in other states to introduce the Maine EPR bill nearly verbatim. That, it seems, is the most plausible explanation for how a Maine-specific exemption from EPR fees for frozen wild blueberries made it into a bill recently introduced in the Illinois House of Representatives.
First, some context: Maine lawmakers, on their way to becoming the first state to pass EPR legislation in the summer of 2021, added a provision to the bill that exempts a revered Maine industry: blueberries. Thanks to this exemption, which was included in the final version of the bill signed into law by Governor Janet Mills (D) on July 12, frozen wild blueberries are exempt from the fees that the new Maine EPR program will apply to other products sold in plastic packaging.