Packaging is everywhere. Not only do our online orders come with ample plastic and cardboard materials, but most products purchased are at least contained in a box or bag. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, “containers and packaging make up a major portion of municipal solid waste (MSW), amounting to 82.2 million tons of generation in 2018 alone.” Out of that 82.2 million tons of waste, only 53.9 percent was recycled in that same year. Further, the cost of recycling these materials that are, for the most part, unavoidable as a consumer, falls to the taxpayers. Now, Maine is the first state to take action against this.
A new law in Maine will be shifting the cost of recycling certain packaging materials to the corporations involved in its generation. The law, called “An Act To Support and Improve Municipal Recycling Programs and Save Taxpayer Money,” will hold companies that do not utilize eco-friendly packaging materials accountable for the waste they are sending into Maine. Those companies will now have to pay for every ton of unsustainable materials, such as plastic, that enters the state. This money will then be used by the local towns and governments to recycle these materials, removing some of that burden from the taxpayers.
A Stewardship Organization will be formed to monitor the success of the program and report back to the state. “It’s really designed to tackle our waste crisis, get us to finally reach our goal of recycling 50 percent of our waste which we set back in 1989 and have never reached,” explained Sarah Nichols, Sustainable Maine Director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine. “Now with this law there’s going to be more clarity, more incentives to have more clear labeling on a package to help consumers put things in the right bin. In some communities, it’ll be the difference between having a recycling program and not.”
Nichols continued to explain that most small businesses are exempt from this law, and will not be required to pay the annual fee to the Stewardship Organization. This goes for all businesses that either create less than one ton of waste per year, or make less than $2 million in gross revenue per year.
“We’ll finally have some uniformity around that state with what’s recyclable and what’s not,” Nichols said. “People are confused and when people are confused they put something in the bin that isn’t recyclable that they think is and then that brings down the value of all the recycling. It’s a disaster.”
Recycling is an essential part in keeping our communities and the environment clean and healthy. It reduces the amount of waste that enters landfills, helps conserve natural resources, increases economic security, prevents pollution, saves energy, supports American manufacturing, and helps create U.S. jobs. In fact, in 2016 alone, recycling and reuse activities in the U.S. accounted for 681,000 jobs, $37.8 billion in wages, and $5.5 billion in tax revenues.
“We have a really systematic way of moving more materials to be paid for by producers and companies that make them, and not taken care of by the communities and taxpayers,” Nichols concluded. “Somebody has to pay for this recycling and packaging waste and right now, it’s towns and taxpayers that do it piece-meal throughout the state, and they’re just reacting to all the packaging they’re getting. This is a much more efficient, fair way to approach this problem.”