DEP Recommends Reevaluation of Product Take-Back Programs to Improve Recycling Rates, Protections

December 30, 2011

Samantha DePoy-Warren, Maine DEP Director of Communications & Education

-The agency is seeking public input to send to the Legislature with its second annual report on how product stewardship programs are being implemented in the state-

AUGUSTA – The Maine Department of Environmental Protection is recommending the Legislature reevaluate product stewardship in the state after calculations concluded it has cost more than $2.5 million in the last decade to remove just over 400 pounds of mercury from the environment.

In its second annual report to the Legislature on product stewardship implementation published this month, the agency analyzed the effectiveness of the state’s statutory take-back programs created to keep compact fluorescent lights, vehicle switches and thermostats that contain mercury, electronic waste (televisions and computer monitors) and batteries out of the waste stream and ensure their proper handling and recycling or disposal.

With three full-time DEP staff solely focused on product stewardship with up to four additional employees supporting their efforts, in the past decade 112 pounds of mercury has been recovered in Maine from vehicle switches, 263.7 pounds from thermostats and 32.23 pounds from light bulbs.

The $2.5 million plus 10-year program cost–largely for staff salaries and collection infastructure– is a calculation the department considers conservative, and doesn’t account for the amounts spent by the State Planning Office for data management and report creation, by Efficiency Maine for outreach related expenses or by municipalities.

Even without those additional expenditures factored in, that works out to around $6,000 per pound for removal of mercury from Maine’s environment. A pound of mercury can be purchased on the market for around $10.

In its report, DEP says the programs can and should be improved to increase protections for public and environmental health while decreasing state spending. As part of those cost reduction recommendations, the agency recommends that legislation be developed for 2013 to sunset select product categories that no longer pose a risk because of changes in manufacturing or the success of collection efforts and that economies of scale be created by combining outreach and permitting of remaining product programs.

Other recommendations for the Legislature to consider from the DEP’s report include proposing no new product or product categories to be added to the product stewardship program in the current legislative session; working more collaboratively with industry groups for unified promotion of the programs and encouragement of public participation; and making metrics that show quantity of toxins removed and total costs a more integral component of regular program review.

DEP is now seeking public input which will be submitted along with the report to the Maine Legislature’s Joint Standing Committee on Environment and Natural Resources on January 16.

The report can be found online at and public comments can be submitted by January 15 to Ron Dyer, Director of the Bureau of Remediation & Waste Management at 17 State House Station Augusta, Maine 04333-0017 or by email at