In Maine, packaging products covered by law make up 40 percent of the waste stream.
In both states, a key benefit of the program is that it will make recycling more uniform across the state. Today, recycling is a patchwork job, with variations between cities regarding what can be thrown into the recycling bin.
These programs exist on a spectrum ranging from producer-driven and producer-controlled to government-run. In Maine, the government is taking the lead in how the program will be run, including setting fees. In Oregon, the Producer Responsibility Organization is expected to include manufacturers on an advisory council, which also includes them.
In another key difference, Maine also requires producers to cover 100 percent of their municipalities’ recycling costs. In contrast, Oregon would require producers to cover about 28 percent of the cost of recycling, while municipalities would continue to cover the remainder.
Both laws have an incentive for manufacturing companies to reconsider the design and materials used in their packaging. Many popular consumer products are difficult to recycle, such as disposable coffee cups – they are made from 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 difficult to recycle and therefore does not have recycling markets or products that contain certain toxic chemicals, such as PFAS.
For many companies, this may require a change in mindset.
Scott Castle, founder of the Product Stewardship Institute and former director of waste policy in Massachusetts, described the impact of a dairy company’s decision to change from a clear plastic milk bottle to an opaque white bottle. Opaque bottles were expensive to recycle, so the switch cost the government more money. “The choice of their container really matters,” said Mr. Castle. “The manufacturer of that product had its reasons, but they did not consider the cost of the material in the recycling market.”