Yarmouth rep's waste disposal bill signed into law

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YARMOUTH — Rep. Melissa Walsh Innes, D-Yarmouth, worked for months to create a bill that would hold manufacturers – not municipalities or taxpayers – financially responsible for their product’s waste collection and disposal.

The bill, “An Act to Provide for the Responsible Recycling of Consumer Products,” was signed into law by Gov. John Baldacci on March 25 with the support of the Maine Chamber of Commerce and the Natural Resources Council of Maine.

Innes said she hopes that more manufacturers will take responsibility for the disposal of harmful products, and begin to create products that use and contain less toxins.

“If manufacturers incorporate a more green design for their products, there will be less toxicity in the land and air,” she said. “This law is meant to encourage companies to make products that will not be thrown away as quickly, and if they are, can be reincorporated into the company and used again.”

Maine is the first state to pass a law that would establish a process to identify hazardous  products in the waste stream. This product stewardship program will make sure that manufacturers collect and safely recycle their products at the end of the product’s useful life.

This law will allow retailers, producers, state and local government and the consumer to share in the responsibility of identifying and reducing the health and environmental impacts of consumer products, Innes said.

The law works as a supplement to Maine’s existing product stewardship programs for electronic waste and mercury-containing products. Innes said legislation is in place to deal with dangerous products such as computers, televisions, laptops, digital picture frames, and mercury-containing items. There are 10 products already covered by the laws that exist today in Maine, but Innes said this law will provide an opportunity to revisit hazardous items each year.

“This law will encourage businesses to include a recycling and disposal clause to their business plan,” she said. “We need to establish and encourage product stewardship laws throughout the United States. Maine is ahead of other states, but we are all behind Europe and Canada in what we can do.”

For example, she said, a paint company would have to pay for the collection and disposal of its product instead of having the consumer bring any unused paint to the town dump on hazardous waste day.

“In this case, the company would dispose of the waste, and taxpayers would not be responsible for the cost,” she said. “We want everyone to have an opportunity for input, and putting recycling back to the businesses means the municipal governments don’t have to hold the sole responsibility anymore.”

Innes said the law has the support of the Maine Chamber of Commerce and businesses were considered throughout the process. She said the law will encourage more job opportunities for waste haulers and those who collect recycling and formerly discarded products.

The next step is to decide what challenges will face individual towns with different collection, disposal and recycling plans, she said. As a way to answer these questions, Innes will attend a solid waste and recycling conference on April 27 to learn more. It will be an opportunity to hear from the people directly involved with the law.

“We do not want to overburden municipalities,” she said. “The law is here to help lesson the taxpayer burden and create product responsibility. It is in place to help.”

Amy Anderson can be reached at 781-3662 ext. 110 or aanderson@theforecaster.net