Maine becomes the first US state to establish an Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) for packaging law. What’s next?
In July 2021, Maine became the first state in the United States to pass an Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) law for packaging. Under the new legislation, manufacturers must help pay for the cost of recycling packaging. By enacting LD 1541, Maine hopes to boost recycling rates, reduce the use of packaging, and save taxpayers money by shifting the cost to packaging producers.
EPR policies are nothing new. They have long been established in Canada, the United States, and the European Union for hazardous materials. In fact, the EPR concept was initially introduced in the early 1990s by Thomas Lindhqvist , a Swedish academic who drafted a formal report recommending that Sweden’s Ministry of the Environment demand that packaging companies fund recycling initiatives.
EPR regulations for packaging have also been implemented in many countries; however, Maine is the first US state to focus on eliminating tens of millions of tons of packaging that impact the environment yearly.
According to the Natural Resources Council of Maine, the state has struggled with lots of unrecyclable packaging waste, with varying recycling rules based on local town laws. In addition, many municipalities are buckling under the sheer burden of maintaining recycling programs due to costs.
The Government of Maine estimates it costs 67% more to recycle packaging waste than to dispose of it. As a result, property taxes have increased—as well as cuts to recycling programs.
How Will Maine’s EPR For Packaging Law Work?
Like its international predecessors, packaging producers—no matter where they are located across the globe—will have to pay yearly fees to a Stewardship Organization (SO) that is responsible for managing the new program, monitoring, and reporting back to the state. The SO will reimburse municipalities for the costs sustained for having to deal with the packaging as well as fund operations and infrastructure and elevate public education.
Producers will have to pay for all types of items, mainly plastic, that are recyclable or not: product packaging, food containers, bags, electronics, etc. Fees are determined by yearly per-ton reporting. Retailers that also meet the definition of a producer are under the same obligations under state law.
Maine’s EPR for packaging targets major brands, including Walmart, Amazon and Proctor & Gamble. However, local small businesses, farmers and non-profit organizations are exempt.
Currently, the threshold for companies subject to the new law is $5 million in gross revenue for the next three years. The threshold will be reduced to $2 million. Fees will be variable based on the annual costs of municipal recycling programs and the level of packaging to be managed.
While the bill has been signed into law, the Maine Department of Environmental Protection will hone out the rulemaking by December 2023. The SO will then be chosen, and a contract will be attributed a year before the fees are to be collected. The Maine Department of Environmental Protection plans to start emitting municipality payments by 2027.
What About Other States?
It is important to note that EPR programs already exist in the United States for products, such as batteries, paint and pharmaceuticals. But state-wide programs for packaging are still in their infancy stages.
Maine is not the only state in the US looking to instill EPR packaging policies. Oregon is the second state in the US to pass an EPR law, known as the Plastic Pollution and Recycling Modernization Act in 2021. Other states , including California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, and New York, are working on state laws to prompt a change in producers' packaging strategies and the plastics industry.
The issue for producers is that legislation is ever-evolving, which means they may struggle with discrepancies between states and a lack of transparent access to updated information.
Evnia suggests calling upon experts to help navigate the complexities of state-based, multi-stakeholder EPR programs.
Holding packaging producers responsible for the costs of recycling end-of-life products are definitely a step in the right direction. Nevertheless, meeting legal obligations in terms of product stewardship can be daunting.