Technological watch

Maine begins writing packaging EPR rules

Maine, which in 2021 became one of the first U.S. states to pass extended producer responsibility legislation for packaging, has started writing detailed EPR regulations to move toward its goal of boosting recycling and changing how it manages its packaging waste.

The state's Department of Environmental Protection held a hearing Dec. 8 to discuss potential exemptions to the new EPR regulations, specifically for federally regulated products like medicines.

One of the chief authors of the legislation, state Sen. Nicole Grohoski, D-Ellsworth, argued against including more exemptions in the regulatory process, saying that the EPR bill already included specific exemptions.

The policy is designed to provide relief for taxpayers and municipalities, she said.

"I can also say as the primary sponsor of this legislation, with confidence, that the bill was drafted with the explicit intention of including all packaging material that is managed by Maine's municipalities, except for material that we explicitly exempted ourselves from small producers or that are ones that are managed through our other successful programs," Grohoski said.

"I do not support exempting federally regulated product packaging in the EPR program," she said. "I believe it would be more appropriate to acknowledge any packaging related design limitations … through change or reduction in fees through the fee structure."

Grohoski said granting many exemptions would run counter to the goals of producer responsibility, and she said exemptions could also create administrative complications.

She also urged DEP officials to not let exemptions delay implementation of the law.

The Natural Resources Council of Maine also urged the DEP to craft a fair program.

"We urge the department to consider defining criteria to be used in determining whether an exemption is appropriate under an EPR law as part of the routine technical rulemaking process," Sarah Nichols, the council's sustainable Maine director.

But other speakers said that some states that have passed EPR laws have exempted packaging for medical products and packaging regulated under federal laws governing insecticides and serums.

"The regulation of human drugs, devices, biologics and products, that should receive an exemption," said Ginny Sessions Siller, director of government affairs at the Animal Health Institute in Washington. "In order to treat animal medicines in an analogous manner, exemption should include products for animals regulated under the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic act, the Virus Serums Toxin Act, and the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act."

A lobbyist for the packaging trade group Ameripen told state officials that clarity is needed on what perishable food could mean on the exemption list.

"But materials that may contaminate the stream [for recycled content], should not be recycled and put into a stream that might come in contact with food," said Ameripen lobbyist Andrew Hackman. "I think that's a consideration that's going to have to be balanced because those materials, say pesticides, could not go into recycled content stream."

Other exemptions were questioned.

Thomas Pizzuto, the founder of DecomRX Corp., which designs systems to recycle pharmaceutical containers using information on the bottles, said the high density polyethylene containers used for drug packaging should be recycled and reused.

"EPA recently developed guidelines regarding empty pharmaceutical containers and determine that any residue is nominal and is not considered hazardous," Pizzuto said. "Recycling HDPE has benefits. Studies have shown it is more cost effective to produce from recycled HDPE than it is to manufacture virgin HDPE plastic. One kilogram of HDPE requires 1.75 kilograms of oil to manufacture."

The DEP will submit its draft EPR rules to the state's Board of Environmental Protection, a seven-member body appointed by the governor and confirmed by the legislature, by the end of the year.

Publication date: 19/01/2023

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This project has received funding from the Bio Based Industries Joint Undertaking under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 837761.