Update: Want to Turn the Tide on Plastics Pollution? Make Producers Pay to Pollute - Conservation Law Foundation

Update: Want to Turn the Tide on Plastics Pollution? Make Producers Pay to Pollute

Maine leads the nation by passing legislation that makes big corporations a part of the plastic solution

Olivia Synoracki

This post was updated on July 13, 2021.

Maine Gov. Mills has signed into law a nation-leading bill that will require corporations that sell single-use packaging to pay for the pollution they create. Those fees will help offset the growing cost of recycling currently paid by cities and towns – in other words, by taxpayers.

Help us thank Gov. Mills for this bold action. And keep reading to learn why this bill is such a game-changer – and why we need the rest of New England to take similar action.

Plastic pollution is growing. For ages, big corporations have blamed the influx of trash tainting the Earth on consumers, saying we just need to recycle more. In doing so, plastic producers have successfully distracted the public from the real issues with plastic – and the real solutions. Because the truth is, today’s throw-away culture exists because plastic producers and manufacturers choose to make single-use products and packaging that cannot be recycled.

Meanwhile, the increasing costs to manage the trash that producers deliberately create fall on our cities and towns – and, by extension, taxpayers. (Those costs have gotten so high that many communities across the country have been forced to cancel their recycling programs.)

While plastic producers would like to keep us all distracted, CLF is not going to let that happen. That’s why we’re working to hold corporations accountable for the hazards generated by their products – from their manufacture to disposal – with legislation called producer responsibility for packaging.

If every state passed producer responsibility for packaging laws, it would make manufacturers part of the solution to the world’s accelerating plastic crisis. Plus, it would motivate them to invest in design changes that would make products and packaging truly recyclable. It could also spur the creation of packaging reuse systems that would help cut down on waste, and ultimately save cities, towns, taxpayers, and local businesses money.

Thankfully, producer responsibility for packaging laws have finally taken hold in the U.S.

Maine Passes the First Producer Responsibility for Packaging Law in the Nation

Three decades ago, Maine committed to recycling 50% of its annual household trash by 2021. That goal was not met. In fact, the state is losing ground. The problem? Recycling costs are skyrocketing, and an overwhelming amount of single-use products and packaging are flooding the state’s recycling facilities. What’s more, most of the single-use plastics Mainers put in their recycling bins end up in a landfill or incinerator, anyway.

A new program just signed into law by Governor Mills aims to change that. An Act to Support and Improve Municipal Recycling Programs and Save Taxpayer Money creates a first-in-the-nation producer responsibility program for packaging. Finally, we have legislation that will make recycling work for Mainers, not corporations.

Here’s how it works: Under the new law, large corporations that sell single-use packaging and products in Maine will be required to pay fees. The fees will be set by the Department of Environmental Protection. Each type of packaging (plastic, paper, cardboard, aluminum, etc.) will have a specific fee designed to reflect the total cost of collecting, processing, transporting, and recycling it. This money will be used to reimburse Maine’s cities and towns for the costs of dealing with all this packaging waste.

What’s more, the Department will also create fee adjustments that allow companies to reduce the amount they pay by making environmentally friendly decisions. These include reducing packaging, increasing recyclability, and making their packaging with recycled materials. This way, the corporations have a financial incentive to do the right thing.

The law also has important protections for Maine’s small businesses. Those protections ensure that the large corporations causing the state’s trash problem are the ones paying to fix it.

Keeping The Momentum – Producer Responsibility Laws Across the Region

While Maine was the first in New England, it won’t be the last. Oregon’s Governor is expected to sign a producer responsibility for packaging bill into law any day now. We have seen significant momentum around these laws across the nation. This year nearly a dozen states introduced producer responsibility for packaging laws – including Vermont and Massachusetts.

But our work isn’t over. Most of these bills were unfortunately defeated. Massachusetts, however, still has an opportunity to pass its bill and change the state’s recycling system for the better. CLF is committed to building up the victory in Maine and advancing legislation that requires large corporations to take responsibility for the waste they create throughout New England.

Thank Gov. Mills now for this bold action.

Before you go… CLF is working every day to create real, systemic change for New England’s environment. And we can’t solve these big problems without people like you. Will you be a part of this movement by considering a contribution today? If everyone reading our blog gave just $10, we’d have enough money to fund our legal teams for the next year.

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