Thursday, August 25, 2011

Got Jobs? Maine Company Grows with Passage of Expanded Manufacturer Responsibility Law

By Representative Melissa Walsh Innes, Yarmouth, Maine

Being an elected public official, it's my duty to stay up to date on what's happening in my state and around the world.  Time is short, so surfing web headlines is my way of staying connected.  In these tough times, jobs are on every public servant's mind and that goes double for me.  I'm especially looking for good news and fresh ideas to bring to the Maine State House.

Photo by Amber Waterman, Sun Journal
Unfortunately, for this optimist, most headlines are bad news and dour predictions of what's to come next.  So you can understand how excited I was last week to see this headline, "New law enables Auburn, Maine recycling firm to expand."

The article describes the implementation of a new Maine law, which I sponsored, titled "An Act to Increase Recycling Jobs in Maine and Lower Costs for Maine Businesses Concerning Recycled Electronics."  This law creates cost savings for all Maine businesses with under 100 employees by allowing them to participate in Maine's electronic waste (e-waste) recycling program.  

This initiative began over five years ago and was the first extended producer responsibility (EPR) law for electronics in the United States.  Just like bottle bills (container deposit laws) - which most people know about - EPR laws direct manufacturers to fund the collection and recycling of their products at the end of the product's useful life, promoting the sustainable reuse of materials and preventing the release of hazardous chemicals into the environment.  In addition, they reduce costs for local governments and taxpayers and create jobs through the collection and recycling of formerly discarded products. 

According to the Natural Resources Council of Maine, an environmental advocacy organization that worked with me to expand the law, Maine has recycled over 30 million pounds of e-waste, saved taxpayers more than $20 million, and prevented more than 6 million pounds of lead and other toxics from entering our environment, since the law's inception in 2006.  Today, 23 other states have also enacted producer responsibility laws to recycle unwanted electronics and many more are working on bills this year.

Up to this point, only Maine households could participate, so this increase in electronics recycling will allow Maine businesses to recycle their old electronics at no cost.  In addition, it will help Maine-based and regional recycling businesses to prosper.  With the increased volume expected, and with enabling rules allowing them to also "demanufacture" the discarded electronics, the Auburn, Maine facility expects to create almost 20 new jobs in the next two months.  Given that I'm from a small state without a whole lot of industry, the EPR law expansion is the best kind of news for those looking for work in central Maine.

On a final note, I'm happy to report that the passage of this law was a bipartisan effort.  Republicans and Democrats came together to overwhelmingly pass it - every sitting legislator voted for it!  Creating jobs was priority number one this year, and the Maine Legislature made progress by expanding one of their EPR recycling programs. 

In Maine, we know that recycling products at their end-of-life creates ten times more jobs than land-filling or incinerating them.  Given the job-growth potential, this can and should be duplicated elsewhere.  The question now is, why aren't we doing this with all of the other products we throw away every day?

About Our Guest Blogger:
Melissa Walsh Innes is an elected State Representative in the Maine Legislature, and serves on Maine’s Joint Standing Committee on Environment and Natural Resources.  Melissa focuses on the sustainable management of materials through product stewardship policy and initiatives, and was the sponsor of Maine’s first-in-the-nation Product Stewardship Framework Law of 2010.  She currently works with legislators, businesses, NGO’s and consultants around the world to help foster a constructive dialogue in this policy area.
Melissa lives in Yarmouth, Maine with her husband Shawn, and three daughters.  Melissa blogs at The Innes EPR Report, tweets at repmelissainnes, and can be found on Facebook at Melissa Walsh Innes.

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