In Maine, packaging products covered by the law make up as much as 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 quilt, with differences between cities about what can be thrown in the trash.
These programs exist on a spectrum from producer-run and producer-controlled to government-run programs. In Maine, the government is taking the lead and has final say on how the program will be implemented, including setting fees. In Oregon, the producer responsibility organization is expected to involve manufacturers more, including through an advisory board.
Another key difference is that Maine also requires producers to cover 100 percent of the municipalities’ recycling costs. Oregon, on the other hand, will require producers to cover about 28 percent of recycling costs, while municipalities will continue to cover the rest.
Built into both laws is an incentive for companies to rethink the design and materials used in their packaging. Some popular consumer products are difficult to recycle, such as disposable coffee cups – they are made from a paper base, but with a plastic coating on the inside and a different 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 a recycling market or products containing certain toxic chemicals, such as PFAS.
For many companies, this may require a change of mindset.
Scott Cassel, the founder of the Product Stewardship Institute and former director of waste policy in Massachusetts, described the effect 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 switch cost the government more money. “The choice of their container really matters,” said Mr Cassel. “The producer of that product had their own reasons, but they didn’t consider the cost of the material to the recycling market.”