On July 13, 2021, the Governor of Maine, Janet Mills, signed the nation’s first packaging-based extended producer responsibility (EPR) program into law. In addition to packaging, the law includes printed paper. The passage of this law sends a clear signal that we are on the verge of a dramatic change in the way recycling will be managed in the United States.
EPR laws are not new and have existed for some time and those covering printed paper and packaging have been in place in several provinces in Canada and many countries in Europe. However, Maine’s legislation is the first EPR program for printed paper and packaging enacted in the United States. The new law, LD 1541, shifts the costs of managing printed paper and product packaging waste, whether it is recyclable or not, from municipalities and consumers to “producers.” Producers are those companies that are placing covered products into the marketplace.
The law requires producers to report on the types and quantity of printed paper and packaging materials sold into the state. The law establishes a Stewardship Organization that will be responsible for determining the fees producers of these products will have to pay on an annual basis. The fee is intended to account for the disposal and recycling costs associated with printed paper and packaging materials. The fees collected will be passed along to municipalities that have traditionally borne the cost of recycling or disposing of these wastes. Unless otherwise exempt, producers will not be allowed to sell or distribute products in Maine without complying with the law.
The fees will be based on a variety of factors including the “recyclability” of the material. The term eco-modulation is used to describe this aspect of the fee allocation process. The thought behind it is to provide an incentive for producers to use materials that are more readily recyclable as the fee for these materials would be less. The regulatory process to formally establish the program will commence in December 2023.
PRINTING United Alliance did not support this legislation as it will have implications for the printing industry and its customers. In addition, it will also eventually cause an increase in the cost of goods offered by producers. For example, the fee that producers pay for “other printed paper” in British Columbia is currently $295 per ton. The fee for corrugated and boxboard is $342 per ton. The fee for common plastic containers (e.g., PET and HDPE) is $605 per ton. This means any nonexempt print customer must pay this annual fee for all paper associated with their product.
At least 13 other states and Congress are considering similar laws. This growing popularity of these laws is a direct result of increased awareness of the challenges associated with recycling certain materials including packaging. If more states pass these laws or one is passed by Congress, it is a clear indication that there will be a major shift towards the management of the products we create and consume.