Jun. 7—Pro-business groups in Maine are reiterating their opposition to a bill that would require manufacturers to pay for disposal and recycling of product packaging, and they're pointing to a white paper from an Ontario university researcher that suggests consumer prices would increase under such a plan.
But the paper's methodology and findings are being criticized by supporters of the measure, and its author admits there is not enough relevant information available to draw definite conclusions.
"The data available is extraordinarily poor," said Calvin Lakhan, a waste management researcher at York University in Toronto, in an interview Monday.
The bill, L.D. 1541, calls for what's known as an extended producer responsibility plan, which would assess fees to product makers to reduce the public cost of recycling the packaging of their goods.
Lakhan's paper asserts that the plan envisioned in L.D. 1541 would increase costs to producers by at least $99 million annually, a far higher number than the $17 million the Maine Department of Environmental Protection estimates packaging disposal costs Maine towns and cities every year.
Lakhan assumes those costs would be passed on to consumers, increasing the monthly grocery bill of a family of four by anywhere from $32 to nearly $60, a figure critics suggest is wildly unrealistic.
The intent of the paper, Lakhan said, was to illustrate the issues surrounding extended producer responsibility plans, which he thinks deserve further study. There is no evidence such plans increase consumer costs, he wrote, but that is "based on a faulty premise — the absence of evidence is not proof of outcome."
"A lot of people misconstrue what we are trying to do," Lakhan said in the interview. "Our goal is not to advocate on behalf of producers — what we want to do is have a fair and balanced conversation."
The report is similar to one York University produced regarding a New York packaging bill. After assertions from that paper wound up in testimony on the Maine bill, supporters pointed out it cited virtually no sources, did not have transparent methodology or data sources and did not reflect the real-world examples of producer responsibility programs.
"The bottom line is this: No credible evidence has been provided that L.D. 1541 would have any measurable impact on the price of packaged goods in Maine if L.D. 1541 becomes law," said Natural Resources Council of Maine Sustainable Maine Director Sarah Nichols and Peter Blair, a staff attorney at the Conservation Law Foundation, in a May letter to the joint chairs of the Legislature's Committee on Environment and Natural Resources.
In a document responding to the criticism, Lakhan said the data and methodology were not published because the paper relied on proprietary statistical software and a "patchwork" of studies and data sources to model the impact of the New York bill.
The paper was not peer-reviewed and did not cite sources because it was intended to solicit feedback and be a living document that would benefit from stakeholders providing better data, he wrote.
Maine's producer responsibility bill would create a system under which product makers would have to pay a fee on packaging material to help reimburse municipalities for recycling and disposal, and to improve recycling infrastructure and education.
The Maine State Chamber of Commerce, Retail Association of Maine and Maine Grocers and Food Producers Association planned to hold a news conference Tuesday in opposition to the bill, leaning on material in the York University white paper. A majority of lawmakers on the Environment and Natural Resources Committee voted last month that the bill ought to pass in the full Legislature.
Maine is among a number of states considering packaging-related bills this year. Dozens of countries and at least five Canadian provinces have producer responsibility laws for packaging.
"There hasn't been a lot of study on these different proposals yet," said Curtis Picard, president of the Retail Association of Maine. "I think the study is worth taking a look at as part of the conversation on this bill."