Forklift driver Joe Heroux takes a 700 pound bale of high-density plastic to a waiting truck at the Clynk recycling facility in South Portland in this 2016 file photo. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

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Brie Berry is a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Maine. R. Alan Berry is a doctoral candidate at the University of Maine. These are their views and do not express those of the University of Maine System or the University of Maine. Both are members of the Maine chapter of the Scholars Strategy Network, which brings together scholars across the country to address public challenges and their policy implications. Members’ columns appear in the BDN every other week.

As we near the end of the holiday season, it’s a good time to reflect on our waste. Americans throw away 25 percent more trash between Thanksgiving and New Year’s than during other times of the year.

In Maine it’s an especially good time to think about waste and waste reduction, since Maine was the first state in the country to pass Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) legislation, which holds producers accountable for the waste they generate. This legislation has the potential to significantly decrease the amount of waste generated in the state through product redesign, improved recycling, and more.

The EPR bill got a lot of attention while it was making its way through the Legislature, but we don’t want to lose sight of this bill now  — because the real work begins with the rulemaking process.

As we turn our attention to the new year and our hopes for the future, we’re sharing two components we want to see included in the upcoming EPR rulemaking process.

Truth in recycling

Did you know that the “chasing arrows” symbol on the bottom of plastic products doesn’t actually indicate whether an object is recyclable? Instead, it just tells us what type of plastic the object is made of. Confusion around the meaning of the chasing arrows symbol is understandable — actually, a PBS Frontline documentary argues that plastics corporations intended for the symbol to be confusing in the hopes that people would feel better about using so much plastic.

In California, new legislation was recently passed that prohibits manufacturers from marking products with the chasing arrows symbol unless the object is recyclable in programs that serve 60 percent or more of the state’s population. Oregon, which passed an EPR bill just after Maine, included a ” truth in labeling” component to the bill, which will establish a task force to establish whether producers are misleading consumers about how recyclable their products are.

In the EPR rulemaking process, Maine should follow the lead of these other states, and ensure that the chasing arrows symbol means what we think it means – that a product really is recyclable.

Right to repair

So much of what we throw away isn’t actually waste. Our household appliances, like irons and coffee makers, and our electronic devices, such as smartphones, tablets, laptops, and TVs — collectively known as e-waste — often end up in landfills or incinerators when older models are replaced or when small problems arise that should be easily repairable. Over 50 million tons of e-waste was generated globally in 2019, and that number is expected to increase significantly in the next decade.

One of the best ways to reduce e-waste is to ensure that people have access to the information, parts, tools, and services they need to repair their electronic devices and appliances, and that companies are designing products that can be repaired. This “right to repair” is gaining momentum around the world and in the U.S., where 27 states have recently introduced legislation and the Biden administration has signed an executive order, all to make it easier for people to repair their stuff.

In Maine, there have also been right to repair efforts, but legislation has yet to pass. Oregon included a right to repair in its EPR legislation, suggesting an opportunity for Maine to revisit this idea through its own EPR rulemaking process.

It’s so easy to forget about waste when it leaves our sight — it’s also easy to forget about our legislative wins after the bills pass. But this is when the hard work begins.

The items we shared here build on national and international efforts to reduce waste. As we look forward to the new year, we hope you resolve to participate in Maine’s EPR rulemaking process. Contact to learn more and get involved.