What If Florida Followed Maine’s Example On Recycling?

Officials in Maine have approved a tough new regulation that forces the companies that manufacture the plastic products that are difficult if not impossible to recycle to pay up to support local recycling programs.

The concept, known as extended producer responsibility charges the companies that produce the waste that local governments are stuck dealing with fees to cover some or all of the costs of local recycling programs.

These programs have been passed in some form in 33 states, the New York Times reports, but most do not deal with the plastic and packaging issues.

How to handle the cost of recycling programs was less of an issue for local governments when China was accepting shipments of plastic waste from all over the world for reprocessing it. When China stopped accepting the waste—and other countries that were possible replacements also began turning down imports they said made their countries into dumping grounds—local officials had to rethink their recycling programs were worth continuing.

Added to the calculation is the fact that the value of recyclables, like all commodities, varies with the market. This is especially true of plastics.

Part of the problem is that the petroleum industry, which is the industry behind the plastic industry, has deluded the public for years about plastic recycling. It was sold as easy, with the recycling logos on bottles and jugs that implied all you had to do was to put it in the right bin.

This was a lie. The fact is the chemical makeup of some plastic containers is so complex that it is unprofitable to try to recycle them.

Another factor affecting the cost of local recycling programs is the lack of education and enforcement of curbside recycling standards, which can result in a high rate of contamination. That means people putting items in their recycling carts that either can no longer be recycled or were never considered recyclable.

If Florida were to pass a law like the one in Maine—and in many European Union countries—it could provide incentives to do more to encourage legitimate recycling efforts and to provide an opening for state officials to require local governments to do more to combat the contamination problem.

The proposal would run into the usual opposition from retailers and manufacturers who typically claim this will raise prices for consumers. However, independent analyses have concluded the effect on product prices is negligible, according to the same New York Times article.



Posted in Group Conservation Issues.