Maine state policymakers are proposing a measure requiring private companies to shoulder the cost of disposing of common household packaging. The proposed measure is partially a response to the collapse of global markets for recyclables such as paper and plastic. Communities accustomed to getting paid to export low-value material to China were caught off guard last year when the national government effectively banned imports of recyclables.
Officials estimate Maine taxpayers spent at least $16 million last year to get rid of recyclables. Increased cost drove some communities to limit accepted materials and at least six towns have quit recycling altogether, according to the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.
Now, waste once destined for China is piling up in landfills and incinerators here, taking Maine further from its three-decade goal of recycling half its household waste. As of 2017, the state’s recycling rate was 38 percent.
To help the state reach its goal, lawmakers this year passed a resolve that directs the DEP to draft a bill that would force packing material producers to pay at least 80 percent of disposal costs for materials that are not easily recyclable, invest in new recycling infrastructure and make products that are easier to recycle.