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May 3, 2017

Maine Senate greenlights bioplastics jobs bill

Photo / Tim Greenway
Photo / Tim Greenway
James Chittum, director of business development at Grow-Tech LLC, talks with Charlotte Mace, executive director of the trade group Biobased Maine, about her organization's efforts to create a “road map” for expanding biobased manufacturing in Maine.

The Maine Senate on Tuesday gave initial approval to a bill by Sen. Jim Dill, D-Old Town, that would invest in Maine's emerging biobased products industry.

Republican Sens. Dana Dow of Waldoboro and Tom Saviello of Wilton joined all 17 Democrats in endorsing the bill, according to a news release from the Senate Democratic Office.

"This legislation will support a growing, sustainable industry and the jobs the come with it," said Sen. Dill in a news release. "Attracting more business to our state and putting more Mainers to work are top priorities. This bill will do both."

The bill — LD 656, "An Act To Improve the Ability of Maine Companies To Manufacture and Market Bioplastics" — would fund a $1.5 million grant for the Maine Technology Institute, which will build Maine's capacity for biobased materials and attracting businesses that produce them. This grant would almost triple the $519,000 grant awarded by the U.S. Department of Commerce to the University of Maine and the Environmental Health Strategy Center to advance bioplastic manufacturing.

Charlotte Mace, executive director of the Portland-based nonprofit Biobased Maine who is a member of the 2016 Mainebiz Next list, has been working with other stakeholders in Maine's $8.5 billion forest products industry to make Maine a world leader in biobased manufacturing. She sees the bill as a key step in the right direction.

"As an organization that works every day for investment in career-creating biobased technologies in Maine, Biobased Maine supports this forward-thinking legislation," she told Mainebiz. "Economic development funding we've received from the federal government is allowing us to work with stakeholders statewide and the University of Maine to map and market Maine's biobased manufacturing assets."

Biobased materials, including bioplastics, are defined as materials made from organisms that were once living, including agricultural crops and residues, trees, and algae. They have been used to create beach toys, potato chip bags, socks, luggage, shopping bags, pens, interior car parts, fertilizer, adhesives and paint, among many other products. A 2015 USDA study stated that biobased products constitute a $1 trillion per year industry.

The bill now goes to the House of Representatives for an initial vote.

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