recyclable packing

New York May Adopt Extended Producer-Responsibility Laws to Combat Consumer Waste

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New York may be on board to be the fifth state in the nation to hold producers responsible for packaging products. 

Thus far, Maine, Oregon, Colorado, and California have enacted extended producer-responsibility laws.  The EPR laws assign both financial and operational responsibility for the end of life of products, and are an important tool for managing and lowering consumer waste. In other words, the programs require the producers of packaging products to finance the costs of recycling or disposing of products that consumers no longer want.

The concept is to put forth incentives to prevent waste at the source – including requirements that product manufacturers and distributors develop programs that charge fees paid by packaging producers to help with the take back of products. Fees can vary, but can be higher for packaging that is not recyclable or has negative environmental impacts. The fees aim to shift the costs of waste disposal away from municipalities and provide packaging producers with an incentive to make products that are recyclable, last longer, and are not as toxic.

The concept of EPR programs originated in Europe, as a way to reach its goal of making 70 percent of all product packaging recyclable by 2030. The programs in Europe include EPR systems for items like electronics, batteries, and cars. The United States has slowly followed suit. For example, many states have EPR laws in place for paint – which can be reused, recycled into new paint, or repurposed. The paint companies in these states are required to develop stewardship programs that make it easier for consumers to recycle unused paint. Many of these bills require producers of packaging materials to join groups called producer responsibility organizations, which collect fees from the producers to help with collection of materials, education, and implementation of EPR goals.

New York lawmakers have introduced three such bills this session. The first was proposed by Gov. Kathy Hochul in her State of the State address and as part of her budget. This bill would require producers to pay a registration fee. An advisory committee would be put in place by 2024, and producer plans for reducing waste would be submitted by January 1, 2026. The bill contains provisions for incentives to encourage designs and materials that are economically friendly. Under this bill, within five years, all glass packaging would require 35 percent recycled content – with the percentages increasing every three years until the percentage reaches 50 percent. Similar measures are in place for metal, rigid plastic, and cardboard packaging. There are some exemptions for food-grade items.

The Packaging Reduction and Recycling Infrastructure Act (Senate Bill S4246) was also introduced in New York. It would require any company with an income over $1 million to reduce the amount of packaging used, as well as increase their recycling efforts and infrastructure. Producers would need to reduce packaging over time and hit a 50-percent reduction 12 years after the law is passed.  Producers cannot meet their goals by substituting plastic or non-recyclable material for recyclable material. There are also some exemptions for companies that already have 50 percent, or more, of its packaging reusable.

Finally, New York has introduced Senate Bill S1064. This bill is similar, but does contain higher targets for reduction- requiring 90 percent of the packaging to be reduced within 12 years. The fee for not meeting the standards in this bill would be 20 cents per pound. This bill also includes a section that requires companies to disclose the percentage of PCR in plastics, how to recycle the items, and disclose whether the items are recyclable. This bill does, however, contain a larger exemption – all producers that make less than $2 million in gross revenue a year, municipalities, and producers that use less than one ton of packaging in a year would all be exempt.

Many proponents of these programs laud EPR’s ability to increase recycling rates and help reduce the waste generated by non-recyclable packaging. Research completed by the Recycling Partnership found that EPR not only increases recycling rates but does so at no increased costs to consumers – a “win-win” for the environment. Further, the greenhouse gas savings could be as high as 1 million metric tons of CO2.  These programs also create jobs and inject hundreds of thousands of tons of recyclable materials back into the economy. 

On the other hand, many claim that the EPR laws increase costs to consumers for items that are more difficult to recycle – such as electronics.  Critics also complain the programs themselves are poorly implemented, eliminating the proposed benefits.

It remains to be seen if any of the proposed New York legislation will pass. However, the proposals do follow a larger trend to increase recycling and reduce waste.