Extended Producer Responsibility Laws

First Published: June 17, 2023

Why is it that people don’t clear up after themselves?

It seems that wherever you go, there is trash – much of it from single-use packaging. It seems that efforts to educate people to stop trashing the environment have largely failed, so the pressure is being put on the manufacturers of products sold with this type of packaging.

Some states in the US have already introduced legislation in this regard.

Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) is an environmental policy that makes producers responsible for the entire life cycle of the products that they introduce on the market, from their design until end of life.

This includes waste collection and recycling. EPR is also known as Product Stewardship.

EPR is a strategy to add all of the estimated environmental costs associated with a product throughout the product life cycle to the market price of that product. This is mainly applied in the field of waste management. An example of EPR is container take-back programs.

In most cases, consumers will pay a small deposit when products (usually beverages) are sold, which is refunded when the packaging waste is returned to the retailer.

States with EPR Laws in Place

  • California: SB 54, the Plastic Pollution Prevention and Packaging Producer Responsibility Act was signed into law in 2021, and requires producers of single-use packaging to finance a statewide recycling program. The program will be administered by CalRecycle, the state’s Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery. The law applies to various packaging materials, including plastic bottles, paperboard, metal cans, and glass bottles.

    Producers will be required to pay a fee based on the packaging weight they produce. The revenue from these fees will be used to fund the recycling program. The program is expected to start in 2023.

    In addition, the Act mandates that:
    100% of packaging in the state to be recyclable or compostable
    25% cut in plastic packaging
    65% of all single-use plastic packaging be recycled

  • Colorado: HB 1311, signed into law in 2022, requires producers of single-use packaging to finance a statewide recycling program the requires companies that
    sell products in packaging, paper products, and food serviceware to fund a statewide recycling system to recycle those materials.

    The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment will administer the program, and producers will be required to pay a fee based on the weight of the packaging they produce. The revenue from these fees will be used to fund the recycling program. The program is expected to start in 2024.
  • Maine: An Act to Support and Improve Municipal Recycling Programs and Save Taxpayer Money, signed into law in 2021, requires producers of single-use packaging to finance a statewide recycling program.

    The Maine Department of Environmental Protection administers the program. The law applies to various packaging materials similar to California’s and Colorado’s laws. The law requires manufacturers to help pay for recycling their packaging. The law covers most consumer packaging types, such as plastic bags, cardboard food cartons, and paper parcel stuffing. It does not apply to most beverage containers that are already covered by the state’s bottle bill.

  • Colorado: HB 1311, signed into law in 2022, requires producers of single-use packaging to finance a statewide recycling program the requires companies that
    sell products in packaging, paper products, and food serviceware to fund a statewide recycling system to recycle those materials.

    The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment will administer the program and producers will be required to pay a fee based on the weight of the packaging they produce. The revenue from these fees will be used to fund the recycling program. The program is expected to start in 2024.

    Producers will be required to pay a fee based on the amount of packaging they produce. The revenue from these fees will be used to fund the recycling program. The program started in 2022.

  • Oregon: HB 3441, The Plastic Pollution and Recycling Modernization Act, signed into law in 2021, requires producers of single-use packaging to finance a statewide recycling program. The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality administers the program. The law applies to a similar range of packaging materials as California’s, Colorado’s, and Maine’s laws.

    As with other states, producers will pay fees based on the amount of packaging they produce. The revenue from these fees will be used to fund the recycling program. The program came in effect in 2022, with changes to recycling procedures due in 2025.

  • New Jersey: A program for reducing plastic packaging (New Jersey’s Recycled Content Law) will be enacted in 2024. An additional bill would require producers of single-use packaging to finance a statewide recycling program. The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection would administer the program. The bill is currently in committee, with a lot of industry opposition.

  • Washington: The Washington Recycling And Packaging Act would establish an extended producer responsibility program for certain packaging and paper and create a container deposit system with a 10-cent deposit value. Other provisions include recycling and reuse targets, “truthful labeling” rules and minimum recycled content standards for items like plastic thermoform containers, food tubs and single-use cups.

    The bill is currently stalled, with no possibility of progress in 2023.

    Washington does have an EPR law, this one covering disposable batteries rather than packaging.

These laws are a step in the right direction for reducing packaging waste and improving recycling rates. However, it is important to note that these laws do not ban the use of single-use packaging. Instead, they shift the responsibility for managing packaging waste from taxpayers to producers. This more sustainable approach encourages producers to design packaging that is easier to recycle and compost.

In addition to the six states that have already enacted EPR laws, a number of other states are considering similar legislation. These states include Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York and Vermont.

It is also worth noting that a number of local governments in the United States have already enacted EPR programs for packaging. For example, the city of Seattle has a program that requires producers of single-use beverage containers to finance a recycling program.

The momentum for EPR legislation is growing (albeit slowly) in the United States. As more states and local governments adopt these laws, we can expect to see a significant reduction in packaging waste and an increase in recycling rates.

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