Editor’s Note: The following story first appeared in The Maine Monitor’s free environmental newsletter, Climate Monitor, that is delivered to inboxes for every Friday morning. Sign up for the free newsletter to get important environmental news by registering at this link.
And they’re off: Maine formally launched its attempt to figure out what to do with all those non-recyclable and semi-recyclable plastics that have flooded our homes in recent decades.
It’s called “extended producer responsibility” (EPR) for packaging. A state law passed last year aims to shift the cost of recycling packaging from taxpayers to companies and encourage better packaging design along the way.
At last week’s hour-and-a-half long meeting, environmental advocates, residents and business focused on which materials should be exempt from the new regulations. Representatives from the pharmaceutical and plastics industries argued that federally-regulated packaging, like pharmaceutical containers, pressurized cylinders, pesticide and medical containers should not be subject to the new rules.
“Those materials — say pesticides — should not go into recycled content stream for something that comes in contact with food,” said Andrew Hackman, a lobbyist speaking on behalf of packaging industry group Ameripen.
Proponents of exemptions pointed out that other states that have enacted EPR legislation, like Oregon and California, have exempted packaging for things like medical devices and prescription drugs, and wondered whether companies would stop selling certain goods because of the additional cost.
“Will Maine consumers be prevented from accessing perhaps vital products because of the cost of participating?” Asked Curtis Picard, President of the Retail Association of Maine.
Advocates of the legislation pushed back.
“On the contrary, I think this waste is exactly the kind of material Maine and every other state contemplating EPR legislation should look for to promote its physical and digital circularity,” said Thomas Pizzuto, former pharmaceutical executive and founder of DecomRx, which aims to make it easier to recycle pharmaceutical containers by transforming information like serial and lot numbers.
Claims of contamination, at least in terms of old drug containers, are overblown, he added: “The EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] recently developed guidelines regarding empty pharmaceutical containers and determined that any residue is nominal and is not considered hazardous.”
Industry representatives dodged questions on who they thought should pay for the disposal of packaging if it were to be exempt from the new rules.
“The material that in your products that’s coming into Maine’s communities is still going to be in Maine’s municipal waste stream,” Sarah Nichols, sustainability director at the Natural Resources Council of Maine, asked Ginny Stiller of the Animal Health Institute. “And if the people that you represent are not paying for that, who do you think is the right responsible party who should be paying for the management of that material?”
Stiller deferred, saying she thought it was a “great question” and that she would be happy to continue the conversation via email.
“Exemptions are antithetical to the whole idea behind producer responsibility,” said State Sen. Nicole Grohoski, D-Ellsworth, lead sponsor of the law, which does include exemptions for small producers (less than $2 million in gross annual revenue) as well as items already covered under product stewardship laws, such as bottles and paint cans.
Grohoski and Nichols also urged the DEP to move up its timeline for the program, arguing that selection of a stewardship organization could happen in parallel with the discussion on exemptions.
“We know that municipalities and taxpayers really need relief,” said Grohoski. “They’re currently shouldering the burden of managing all of this waste on their own.”
To read the full edition of this newsletter, see Climate Monitor: Industry reps argue for exemptions at first packaging stakeholder meeting.
Kate Cough covers the environment for The Maine Monitor. Reach her with story ideas by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.