In Maine, packaging products covered by the law make up as much as 40 percent of the waste stream.
In both states, one important benefit of the program is that it will make recycling more uniform statewide. Today, recycling is a patchwork, with variations between cities about what can be thrown in the recycling bin.
These programs exist on a spectrum from producer-run and producer-controlled, to government-run. In Maine, the government is taking the lead, having the final say on how the program will be run, including setting the fees. In Oregon, the producer responsibility organization is expected to involve manufacturers to a larger degree, including them on an advisory council.
In another key difference, Maine is also requiring producers to cover 100 percent of its municipalities’ recycling costs. Oregon, by contrast, will require producers to cover around 28 percent of the costs of recycling, with municipalities continuing to cover the rest.
Built into both laws is an incentive for companies to reconsider the design and materials used in their packaging. A number of popular consumer products are hard to recycle, like disposable coffee cups — they’re made of a paper base, but with a plastic coating inside, and another plastic lid, as well as possibly a cardboard sleeve.
Both Maine and Oregon are considering charging higher rates for packaging that is hard to recycle and therefore doesn’t have a recycling market or products that contain certain toxic chemicals, such as PFAS.
For many companies, this might require a shift in mind-set.
Scott Cassel, the founder of the Product Stewardship Institute and the former director of waste policy in Massachusetts, described the effect of one dairy company’s decision to change from a clear plastic milk bottle to an opaque white bottle. The opaque bottles were costlier to recycle, so the switch cost the government more money. “The choice of their container really matters,” Mr. Cassel said. “The producer of that product had their own reasons, but they didn’t consider the cost of the material to the recycling market.”
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