May 30, 2020
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Lawmakers have a chance to improve Maine’s recycling programs

Charles Krupa | AP
Charles Krupa | AP
In this Sept. 6, 2018, file photo, bundled plastic goods, which were separated from paper and metal recyclable materials, are stacked and awaiting processing at EL Harvey & Sons, a waste and recycling company, in Westborough, Massachusetts.

Trash is big business. And it’s costly. As an Orono town councilor, I know that we budget for curbside waste and recycling removal at approximately $200,000 per fiscal year. Areas of concern and challenges in budgeting at the municipal level are always the increased stress on finite resources. Orono is also challenged with one of the highest mill rates in the state.

Maine is at a point (primarily due to destabilized recycling programs and closures) where manufactures need to step up and design materials that are environmentally friendly and shift the costs of recycling and waste management from already stressed taxpayers.

It is important for Maine people and municipal leaders to know that a bill being considered by lawmakers, LD 2104, has the potential to shift the paradigm away from consumers and municipal waste program expenditures to a stewardship program that reimburses our communities. Often, big producers fail to consider that non-recyclable packaging will end up in our landfills or municipal solid waste systems and not in our recycling streams. It is a forward-thinking idea whose time has come.

The producer stewardship program called for in LD 2104 will not ameliorate the high cost of waste management, but it will deliver a much-needed revenue stream to municipalities that want to improve their recycling programs. The savings from this revenue can then be passed on to taxpayers.

How does it work? The proposed bill creates a Producer Responsibility Organization that tiers fees, from least recyclable (highest fees) to most recyclable (no fees), that are collected and then disbursed through a municipal compensation plan. These fees are based on the amount, type and design of the packaging. The concept is to incentivize producers to use recyclable, less wasteful packaging for which there are no markets to recycle locally. Currently, Nos. 3 through 7 plastics are an example of that waste stream.

Arguments against a producer stewardship program are often that businesses like Amazon, Best Buy, Costco, Home Depot, Walmart, McDonald’s, etc., will increase their costs to cover those tiered fees when they use unrecyclable material in their packaging. The counter to this is that they are already creating packaging with less environmental impact in five provinces in Canada, 48 countries around the world, on every continent — some for as long as 30 years — and for about the same cost as Mainers pay now through taxes. In other words, these producers are already doing it — just not in the United States. Maine would be the first in the nation to bring a producer stewardship program to this country.

We do it already. Our returnable bottles and cans are a smaller version of a producer stewardship recycling program. We all know how to do it, and it works. It keeps our streets clean, it produces community and group resources for fundraising (how many times have you donated your bottles and cans to a good cause?) and it lessens environmental impacts. We should all support LD 2104, because we’ve seen it work on a smaller scale.

In this time of online shopping and shipping, this particular stewardship program has proven that it already works around the world. I believe it is time for lawmakers to help Maine once again lead the nation in resourceful, innovative and creative solutions to a current and seemingly impossible waste crisis that envelops our state and our nation. By moving quickly to pass LD 2104, our legislators can begin the process of being part of a solution that supports strong environmental ethics and shifts the burden of responsibility to producers to create more recyclable packaging that reduces taxpayer cost.

Cheryl Robertson is an Orono town councilor.

 


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