Maine Will Make Corporations Pay for Recycling. Right here’s How It Works.

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In Maine, regulated packaging products account for up to 40 percent of the waste stream.

In both states, a key benefit of the program is that recycling will become more consistent across the country. Today recycling is a patchwork quilt, with differences between cities as to what can be thrown into the recycling bin.

These programs range from producer-managed and producer-controlled to state-run programs. In Maine, the government takes the lead and has the final say on the implementation of the program, including setting fees. In Oregon, the producer responsibility organization is expected to involve manufacturers more and to include them on an advisory board.

In another important difference, Maine also requires manufacturers to cover 100 percent of its communities’ recycling costs. Oregon, on the other hand, will require manufacturers to pay around 28 percent of the recycling costs, while the remainder will continue to be borne by local authorities.

Both laws encourage companies to rethink the design and materials of their packaging. A number of popular consumer goods are difficult to recycle, such as disposable coffee mugs – they’re made of paper, but with a plastic coating inside and another plastic lid, and possibly a cardboard sleeve.

Both Maine and Oregon are considering charging higher fees for packaging that is difficult to recycle and therefore does not have a recycling market or products that contain certain toxic chemicals like PFAS.

For many companies, this can require a rethink.

Scott Cassel, founder of the Product Stewardship Institute and former director of waste policy in Massachusetts, described the impact of a dairy company’s decision to switch from a clear plastic milk bottle to an opaque white bottle. The opaque bottles were more expensive to recycle, so the conversion cost the government more money. “The choice of your container is really important,” said Cassel. “The manufacturer of this product had its own reasons, but did not consider the cost of the material to the recycling market.”