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Christine Cummings is the executive director of the Maine Grocers & Food Producers Association.
Shoppers are facing the highest increase in pricing for consumer goods that they’ve seen in the last nine years. The food-at-home index (grocery store or supermarket food purchases) is 3.3 percent higher than March 2020, the spike of pandemic purchasing. A recent New York Times article reported that a number of consumer-packaged goods manufacturers have announced that they’re raising prices on goods ranging from diapers to tampons to toilet paper and cereal.
Increased prices are the result of rising transportation costs in a high-demand market and continued supply chain disruptions. Companies have no choice but to pass the costs on to partners along the supply chain, resulting in higher costs at retail for consumers.
Increased costs, intensified by inflation, paired with a proposed Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) program is troublesome as we all begin to rebound from one of the most challenging years that our nation and state has ever experienced. Two proposed policies, LD 1541, “An Act To Support and Improve Municipal Recycling Programs and Save Taxpayer Money,” and LD 1471 “An Act To Establish a Stewardship Program for Packaging,” are parallel efforts to create an EPR program for packaging in Maine.
EPR models are a financial shift of the responsibility of post-consumer waste management. These bills would look to require that consumer goods manufacturers pay into a third-party stewardship fund to reimburse municipalities for the costs of recycling or, in some cases, the disposal of packaging materials. While the fees are paid by the manufacturers, in today’s tight market, a result of narrowed transportation options and labor challenges, Maine consumers will ultimately pay the price while facing likely reduced product assortment.
The program is complex. In fact, no other state in the country has passed an EPR program for packaging, although many have tried. A York University study extrapolated data from Canadian EPR models in comparison to New York state data to analyze the projected impact of EPR on consumer-packaged goods. The study concluded that a similar program in New York would increase the prices of packaged goods from 4 percent to 6.35 percent (independent of inflation). This would equate to a $36 to $57 per month increase in grocery costs. Increased costs disproportionately hurt those on fixed incomes including our state’s elderly and those already negatively affected by the pandemic.
Proponents of the extended producer responsibility program advocate that to reimburse municipalities for the cost of disposing and recycling packaging waste, the program is projected to save Maine taxpayers $16-17 million annually. Positioning these bills as a plan that will save Maine taxpayers is misleading. Maine residents will pay for this program through increased prices at retail stores (passed down from the manufacturers recuperating their costs to participate in the program) and continue to pay local taxes to support these municipalities. Canadian EPR program data fails to demonstrate reciprocating property tax reduction.
This policy warrants a robust discussion to determine the best path forward for Maine consumers and Maine’s environment. We are not naive about the necessity to address and embrace sustainability, but it is imperative that a program of such magnitude and complexity is assessed and done well so that it gives us the intended results. Maine must strike a balance between environmental stewards and protecting Maine’s economic viability. Mainers need certainty that what they’ll be investing in with their hard-earned dollars will in return increase Maine’s recycling infrastructure and lead to a true reduction in waste.