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SOLUTIONS 7/30: Packaging That Doesn’t Poison Our Environment

By Huck Fairman

We all purchase food, drinks and items that often come to us in plastics.
Yet most of us are aware that studies have shown plastics to be degrading, if not outright poisoning, our environments and the creatures (including us) who live in them.

Plastics found in our oceans, and other water bodies, are too often found in the fish living there.

Plastics, we also know, come from petroleum that in its drilling and production of fossil fuels is contributing to global warming and blighting environments. As part of our reduction in fossil fuel usage, should we not significantly reduce our usage of plastics?

Fortunately two states, Maine and Oregon, are leading the way to reduced plastics usage by passing laws that restrict usage. The governor of Maine has signed legislation establishing Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) for packaging materials in the state. It’s the first bill of its kind to become law in the U.S., and it establishes requirements for certain packaging products spanning virtually all material types.

Under the law, packaging producers will be financially responsible for funding recycling of their products. The purpose is to support and improve municipal recycling programs and save taxpayer money and, incidentally, save our environments.

A Maine state representative explained the law requires packaging producers to take responsibility for their packaging, just as they do in more than 40 other countries and regions worldwide.

While the bill excludes some packaging applications, including beverage containers (Maine has a container deposit program), long-term storage materials, paint containers and other assorted materials, the bulk of consumer product packaging is covered under the bill.

Maine environmental advocates described the bill as a “groundbreaking waste reduction law and one that will set Maine “on a path to a stable recycling system.”

The program, run by a stewardship organization contracted by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, will use producer payments to cover the operational costs for the program, pay department fees, and make investments in education and infrastructure to reduce future packaging waste in Maine.

Similar EPR initiatives are in place in European countries and in some Canadian provinces. The approach has gained more support in the United States in the wake of China’s reduced acceptance of recyclables, essentially eliminating a market for them, and spurring new conversations across this country about recycling systems and their funding.

Numerous packaging EPR proposals were introduced this year, but the Maine proposal and a bill in Oregon were the only pieces of legislation to clear both legislative chambers in their respective states.

In New Jersey, the state has a Business Action Center which, among numerous other responsibilities, runs an office focused on reducing usage of plastics. Project Manager Janet Robertson is both spreading the word about reducing plastics usage, while seeking participants, and the means to do so.

This summer’s heat, fires and floods across much of the world are further warnings that we need to take clear and decisive actions to curtail and eliminate our most destructive practices and products.

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