Janet Mills signs 1st-in-the-nation bill to shift recycling costs to packaging producers

Jul. 13—AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Janet Mills signed a controversial bill on Monday that will make Maine the first state in the nation to charge producers of packaging products for recycling or disposing costs and use the money to fund local recycling programs.

The measure, sponsored by Rep. Nicole Grohoski, D-Ellsworth, was backed by environmental groups that aim to shift the costs of recycling from local taxpayers to producers. It was heavily opposed by those producers and the business lobby, which argued that the program would raise prices of basic consumer goods, including groceries.

The bill came amid rising recycling costs and a push to increase recycling rates. Its future was uncertain after Mills raised concerns about disposal costs. Her staff was noncommittal after the Maine Department of Environmental Protection signed off on a version of the measure. It did not dissuade the Democratic-led Legislature, which passed the bill by comfortable margins.

But co-sponsor Sen. Rick Bennett, R-Oxford, said he had a "good feeling" Mills would sign off, citing work her staff did on the final product and support for a similar concept last year. Key revisions included exempting businesses taking in under $5 million in annual revenue and requiring lawmakers to sign off on the program's rules prior to its start.

"This bill is the first step toward reviving local recycling programs and getting municipal waste management back on track," said Neal Goldberg, a policy analyst at the Maine Municipal Association. "For too long property taxpayers have been shouldering the hefty cost of managing packaging material for the world's biggest producers of waste."

The conversation over the law may not be over. Bennett said in a Facebook post that opponents of the bill were meeting Wednesday to discuss a people's veto effort, naming lobbyist Andrew Hackman, who represents the American Institute for Packaging and the Environment, a national industry group. The senator declined to say how he knew that was happening.

Hackman declined to comment on future opposition efforts, citing client confidentiality, but said no "formal effort" to override Mills' decision had been reached. He said industry groups are studying the law to determine compliance timeframes and see how it will affect the supply chain.

"Now is not the time to increase fees on products for producers that will eventually be paid for by Maine consumers," Ben Gilman, a lawyer for the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, said.