The Legislature this session is considering several “extended producer responsibility” bills, which offer the potential to mitigate growing recycling costs faced by local governments in recent years.

The intent of extended producer responsibility is to extend a manufacturer’s responsibility for its products to post-consumer management of the products and their packaging. Doing so shifts end-of-life costs and management responsibility to the manufacturer and away from the public sector, and provides incentives to manufacturers to incorporate environmental considerations into the design of their products and packaging.

At the MMA Annual Business Meeting in January 2019, the membership approved a resolution supporting a local-state-federal partnership to address the challenges in the recycling marketplace, which includes support for legislation that establishes manufacturer responsibility for end-of-life recycling of specific product categories, such as mattresses, paint and electronics.

In June, the MMA submitted testimony to the Legislature endorsing legislation to establish a comprehensive extended producer responsibility system for packaging. The bill (H. 878) would have so-called producer responsibility organizations, made up of product manufacturers, reimburse municipalities for recycling costs associated with packaging materials. The MMA’s testimony noted that this approach would shift much of the cost burden of managing post-consumer plastic packaging from local governments to producers, so it would benefit municipalities financially while also having a positive impact on the environment.

The same testimony indicated the MMA’s broad support for product-specific EPR bills pending before the Legislature, including those for mattresses (S. 569 and S. 570), paint (H. 938), and electronics (H. 979).

The MMA emphasized the importance of establishing a statewide solution for mattress recycling in advance of an expected disposal ban. The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection has not yet finalized regulations regarding the mattress disposal ban, but last fall had proposed an October 2021 implementation.

In July, Maine passed a first-in-the-nation EPR for packaging law with many similarities to the one proposed for Massachusetts. In both cases, the state’s environmental protection agency would oversee the new system, setting fees assessed on manufacturers that are to be used to reimburse municipalities for 100% of recycling costs and enforcing compliance with all aspects of the rules.

In Oregon, an EPR for packaging law passed in August would only reimburse municipalities for about one-third of recycling costs, and the system is set up for more involvement by manufacturers in decision-making and oversight.

The passage of packaging laws in Maine and Oregon is encouraging for advocates working to pass similar legislation in Massachusetts.

All of the EPR bills pending before the Legislature are still in their subject-matter committee, the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture.

The MMA continues to advocate for a producer responsibility approach to alleviating the costs, and materials management burden, related to municipal recycling programs.

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