FILE - Plastic bottles recycling

Plastic bottle stack up to be recycled.

Maine lawmakers are working on a first in the nation bill that would shift the burden for disposal of packaging materials from consumers to manufacturers.

While the bill is still being drafted, members of the Environment and Natural Resources Committee are considering how to implement a statute that would have packing material producers create an outside entity that would pay municipalities to dispose of some recyclable materials.

Last week, committee members heard input from recycling industry consultant experts.

As the cost of recycling programs has risen in recent years due to Chinese restrictions on acceptable recyclables, governments in Europe and Canada have adopted similar programs, which are known as Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR).

According to figures from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, the state presently spends about $17 million on packaging disposal.

An industry expert told the lawmakers that moving that responsibility to producers can offset recycling market price fluctuations, a goal espoused by sustainability groups.

Another expert, Resa Dimino, a senior consultant with RRS, a global waste management group, noted that system integration would be key to the success for a state EPR.

Sarah Nichols, the sustainable Maine director at the Natural Resources Council of Maine, told the Portland Press Herald that a bill could be ready for debate next month, though implementing an actual mandate may take two years.

“I’d say there is zero risk of producers not fulfilling statutory obligations,” Nichols said. “I’m confident that Maine is going to lead the way on this like we have on other programs.”

As environmental stewardship programs have become more widely instituted, legislators have also recently discussed holding tobacco companies responsible for cleanup of cigarette refuse left on sidewalks, highways and other public areas.

However, a letter from RAI Services, written on behalf R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. stated that an EPR program was neither feasible nor necessary.

“Cigarette butt recycling is not yet commercially viable on a local, much less state or national scale,” the letter said. “The infrastructure for such a program is not in place, and certainly not at a scale that would justify the costs or the attendant environmental benefits. The fact of the matter is that landfills and incineration are entirely appropriate disposal methods for cigarette butts.”