Recyclers Identify Flaws in Maine’s Proposed EPR Legislation

On Wednesday, February 26, the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI) testified in front Maine’s Joint Committee on Environment and Natural Resources in opposition to a bill regarding Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR). While supportive of LD 2104’s goals to support and increase the recycling of packaging, Danielle Waterfield, senior director of government relations and assistant general counsel for ISRI, raised significant concerns with the approach chosen in the bill to address the underlying challenges posed by packaging in the residential stream, and provided alternative solutions that would prove more effective in increasing recycling. 

ISRI remains ready to work with legislators on the key issues, offering valuable insights from the recyclers who process the material this bill impacts. This includes the understanding of what makes for successful recycling: market demand for the recyclable material combined with minimal contamination in the stream of recyclables that flow into the system. Effective strategies for increasing the recycling for packaging must address these two issues.

Excerpts of the written testimony follow (ISRI’s full written testimony is available to download online)

LD 2104 contains a number of flaws and notable fallacies in many of the core components of the legislation reflecting a lack of understanding of recycling markets and the current recycling infrastructure. The vast majority of the recyclable material that flows through today’s recycling infrastructure does so without any problems, and is transformed by recyclers into clean, high quality, commodity grade product. …

Recyclable material collected through curbside programs contain a highly diverse and heterogeneous mix of materials. These materials flow through the residential recycling stream and are generally not linked to current market conditions.  Instead, the material flows into an infrastructure for which success is dependent upon end market demand and the supply of material flows into the stream whether there is a market for it or not. This sets the residential recycling infrastructure apart from commercial and industrial recycling in the United States and that is why it demands a unique approach. …

ISRI acknowledges that there are an increasing number of certain materials and consumer products entering the residential recycling stream for which commodity markets do not currently exist, or the markets may be regional in nature and not be economically viable at the point of collection. There are also some packaging materials for which no technological process has been developed to handle. Furthermore, there are a number of recycling programs driven by government mandates or sustainability goals that are not supported solely by market values, and certain materials that were previously economical to recycle may no longer have viable end markets due to major changes in global commodity markets. These conditions create items that are difficult to recycle. …

ISRI applauds the stated goal of LD 2104 to support and increase recycling of packaging products but suggests that … increasing recycling requires collaboration with multiple stakeholders on the various pressure-points within the residential recycling stream, not the least of which are those operating recycling processing facilities. ISRI is disappointed with what seems to be a lack of consultation thus far with those recycling enterprises which actually transform unprocessed, mixed materials into specification-grade commodities used as raw materials in manufacturing.

ISRI does not support product stewardship policies that disrupt the current recycling infrastructure, such as extended producer responsibility programs that either target, include, or disrupt the recycling of materials or products that are being successfully recycled and consumed in existing markets.  To address facilitation of the proper recycling of difficult to recycle items, as a last resort, ISRI supports consideration of policies that are temporary in nature to support markets for recycling of those items until the markets mature, and that require consumers and manufacturers to:

  • Provide a collection mechanism for difficult to recycle items which could be accomplished through manufacturer facilitated collection systems developed in cooperation with retailers or other entities, and/or
  • Compensate municipalities / recyclers for costs associated with separate collection, transportation, and processing systems for difficult to recycle items.

However, while ISRI agrees EPR may be appropriate in some limited cases and on a temporary basis to help municipalities with the costs of handling these materials until end markets develop, LD 2104 does not include the clarity necessary for an effective producer responsibility program. As it currently stands, the legislation could very well collapse under the weight of this uncertainty.

ISRI commends the sponsors of LD 2104 for seeking answers to help improve residential recycling but regrettably is unable to support this legislation in its current form. The producer responsibility plan in LD 2104 essentially amounts only to a tax on consumer goods companies, manufacturers, distributors and retailers in order to fund municipal waste disposal and recycling and it fails to address multiple critical pressure points in the residential recycling infrastructure. The legislation also contains systematic flaws in its definitions, market fallacies, and unrealistic assumptions to determine whether packaging is readily recyclable.

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