(The Center Square) – A Maryland bill that would have put in place new requirements for most manufacturers of packaged goods remains in limbo after not passing beyond committee reviews in the recently concluded legislative session.

As proposed Senate Bill 0292 – and its companion legislation, House Bill 0307 – would require producers of packaged materials to submit what has been described as a “responsibility plan” to the Maryland Department of the Environment for approval.

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The bill also would require the specified manufacturers to pay a tax, based on the composition of the packaging materials, to fortify recycling programs and infrastructure within municipalities across Maryland.

State Sen. Malcolm Augustine, D-Prince George’s, is a sponsor of the bill. He spoke at a recent Senate Finance Committee meeting, prior to the conclusion of the legislative session.

“We’re trying to make sure that the cost of recycling an item is built into the fee that’s at the beginning of the cycle,” Augustine said. “If it gets charged at the beginning, the money that it costs to recycle it is put there. It’s then sent to the municipalities to recycle the item.”

The impetus for the bill, Augustine said, is a response to the financial challenges in the recycling market. China once paid the U.S. for recycling materials, creating a reliable revenue stream for private companies and government agencies, but the country has drastically scaled back on the import in recent years.

“All that (the bill) is trying to do is say, ‘Instead of paying for it through our property taxes and everything else, let’s put it where it really belongs, which is inside of the item,” Augustine said.

Several of Augustine’s counterparts on the Senate Finance Committee had questions and reservations about the bill when it was under deliberation, prompting it not to move beyond the appointed group’s confines and onto the full Senate floor.

“I think we’re paying for trash twice in this bill,” said state Sen. Stephen Hershey, R-Upper Shore. “It’s become expensive to try and recycle.”

State Sen. Benjamin Kramer, D-Montgomery, said he was concerned the bill could lead to unintended consequences – particularly for Marylanders buying packaged goods off supermarket shelves.

“This is not just going to be consumed by whomever it is that is creating the packaging unless I’m missing something somewhere in the process,” Kramer said. “The cost of doing that will most definitely go into the product.”

In his remarks, Kramer said he had concerns “for those people who are already struggling to make ends meet.”

Other legislators, including state Sen. Katherine Klausmeier, D-Baltimore, said they wanted more information before casting a vote for or against the bill.

In particular, Klausmeier said she would like to hear from some of the manufacturers who would be impacted by the legislation and how they could adopt more eco-friendly practices that put fewer burdens on the recycling system.

“I want Proctor & Gamble in here,” Klausmeier said.

Because of the complexity linked to the legislation, state Sen. Delores Kelley, D-Baltimore, suggested a workgroup be formed to dig deeper into the issue. Kelley chairs the Senate Finance Committee.


David Fidlin

The Center Square contributor

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