'

E-cycling alert: Maine adopts first producer responsibility "framework"

Similar legislation is now being considered in 20 other states, including Minnesota and California.

The governor of Maine has signed a new "framework" law that establishes a process for businesses and vendors to create product stewardship programs for hard-to-recycle products -- including computer and electronics products.

The law, which was developed together by environmental groups and industry representatives, is intended the shift the fiscal and physical burden of dealing with this stuff away from local communities and toward producers, consumers and "others who benefit from products sold and used." (So, please note, retailers and resellers, I'm guessing you will be affected somewhere down the line, so you should look into this.)

During a briefing to discuss the new law an hour before it was signed, representatives from Minnesota and California praised Maine's leadership on this issue, saying they are pushing for similar legislation in their own states. The Product Policy Institute, an organization that was involved in helping developing the Maine legislation, praised its passage noting that environmental groups, businesses and communities all had a voice in the framework's development.

The law is officially called LD 1631, "An Act to Provide Leadership Regarding the Responsible Recycling of Consumer Products."

The legislative champion for the law in Maine was Representative Melissa Walsh Innes (D - Yarmouth), who noted that it passed unanimously in both the Maine house and senate bodies. "The eventual success of the bill lies in the working relationship that has been created," Rep. Innes said on the briefing call.

Matt Prindiville, clean production project manager for the Natural Resources Council of Maine, says that the framework helps correct a "flaw" in the country's traditional waste management system. That is because it encourages producers and others to think about designing products with recycling in mind at the beginning. "Products are designed to be recycled, not designed to be disposed of," he said.

There are about 20 states currently modeling similar producer responsibility laws after the Maine one, including Minnesota and California. "I see firsthand the hopeless role of local government today," noted Robert D'Arcy, chair of the California Product Stewardship Council and hazard waste program manager for Santa Clara County. "We have no influence on the design of the products or upstream redesign. ... Local governments sit at the end of the pipe. We fail miserably at managing these things."

In Maine, at least, the burden now lies elsewhere.