Maine governor signs groundbreaking waste reduction bill into law

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Alex Truelove

Pine Tree State becomes the first to require plastic and packaging producers to take responsibility for waste costs

U.S. PIRG

PORTLAND, Maine — Gov. Janet Mills signed LD 1541, which holds producers responsible for their packaging waste, into law on Tuesday. The new law will establish a program called Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) for Packaging, which will require big corporations to shoulder a large percentage of the costs of recycling and waste disposal programs in the state.

With the passage of the bill, Maine continues its reign as an undisputed leader in plastic pollution and waste reduction policies. In 2019, Maine became one of the first states to ban single-use plastic shopping bags and foam food containers. It has also led the way in requiring disposable straws and utensils be given only upon request. Now, by focusing on packaging, the state has addressed many of the most common and hazardous forms of plastic pollution.

Environment Maine, the state affiliate of Environment America and part of The Public Interest Network, along with U.S. PIRG, has been advocating for the elimination of single-use plastics and reducing plastic pollution since 2017. Back in 2018, the group canvassed Mainers across the state with their Wildlife Over Waste campaign, collecting nearly 8,000 petitions in support of a statewide ban on polystyrene. 

“For decades, businesses have been filling the world with so much plastic that it’s become virtually inescapable, all while passing the cleanup costs and blame on to individuals and communities,” said Environment Maine Director Anya Fetcher. “With the governor’s signature, Maine has chosen to stop this rising tide of plastic pollution by putting the responsibility for addressing this crisis where it belongs.”

U.S. PIRG Zero Waste Campaign Director Alex Truelove was excited that Maine set a new precedent. 

“What Maine has done is truly groundbreaking. Never before in the U.S. have producers of packaging truly been held responsible for the waste they create. Even though disposable products are cheap for industry, they’re costly to the rest of us. The 49 other states should follow the example set by Mainers,” he said.

In October 2020, U.S. PIRG and Environment America released Break The Waste Cycle, a report advocating for producer responsibility laws as a policy to reduce waste and improve recycling, citing successful examples from across the world including Europe and Canada. This year, nearly a dozen similar states introduced producer responsibility bills this year, though, LD 1541 in Maine is the first to successfully become law. In Oregon, Gov. Kate Brown is set to sign a similar, though less comprehensive bill to modernize Oregon’s recycling system. 

Environment Maine has been working with a coalition of environmental, public health, and justice organizations, as well as municipalities, businesses, and recycling facilities, to pass this legislation.

“Maine is sending a strong signal that it’s time for big corporations and brands to do their part to curb plastic pollution and reduce wasteful packaging,” said Sarah Nichols, Sustainable Maine Director at the Natural Resources Council of Maine. “The plastic industry and multinational corporations have reaped billions while they let plastic waste and packaging drive up costs for taxpayers and pollute Maine’s environment. This new law will help create the change we need to make recycling more effective, reduce single-use plastics, and bring relief to Maine’s small towns.”

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