2021 Off to a Fast Start

States Debating EPR, Recycled Content, and Labeling Bills

2021 began with a rush in many states to consider policies that will squarely impact the flexible packing industry. This year, extended producer responsibility (EPR) for packaging, recycled content, and packaging labeling mandates are incredibly popular and gaining momentum.

In fact, under the banner of the National Caucus of Environmental Legislators (NECL), nine states—California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maryland, New Hampshire, New York, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington—held a virtual press conference in early February announcing a coordinated effort on EPR legislation for packaging. Some key state activities on packaging include:


Sen. Ben Allen has re-introduced SB 54 that will be amended to become a recycling mandate similar to efforts last year. He also has introduced SB 34, which bans any product or packaging using a deceptive or misleading claim about its recyclability, including a ban of resin identification codes that are placed inside a chasing arrows symbol, unless the product is recyclable in the state of California.


Oregon’s legislative session started in January and the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has sponsored legislation on EPR for packaging in the form of HB 2065 and SB 581. The initiative expands the current recycling system, has producer-funded upgrades to the facilities, gives DEQ the ability to create a statewide list of accepted materials, creates strict labeling standards, and allows for the creation of a Producer Responsibility Organization with multiple fees on the PRO to finance the recycling system upgrades.


Washington’s legislative session started early in 2021 with the introduction of an expansive Extended Producer Responsibility bill. The bill was later amended in the Senate Environment Energy and Technology Committee and now covers recycled content in rigid beverage containers, a ban on expanded polystyrene, and optional serviceware/condiment packaging at restaurants. It seems the topic of a full-blown EPR bill is off the table for the compacted timeline in Washington state this year, but it will be back in 2022. In the meantime, legislation sponsored by the Washington Refuse & Recycling Association (WRRA) has been introduced to also require recycled content mandates for plastic packaging and fines to fund infrastructure.


New York also has moved aggressively on EPR for packaging. Sen. Todd Kaminsky, chair of the Senate Environmental Conservation Committee, is sponsoring S.1185A that was introduced in January and was promptly passed by the committee.


In Maryland, Delegate Brooke Lierman, vice-chair of the Environment and Transportation Committee, has proactively reached out to industry players to work on amendments to her EPR for packaging legislation, House Bill 36. This outreach has been constructive and positive. During a hearing on this legislation on Feb. 9, Lierman offered significant amendments that could offer a simpler structure for an EPR for packaging bill that is balanced and provides funding for both recycling and new recycling infrastructure.


Maine and Vermont both appear poised to be the most active New England states on EPR for packaging. In Maine, a version of LD 2104 from 2020 has been refiled by Rep. Nicole Grohoski. In contrast, an industry coalition is working with Sen. James Dill to create a framework that ensures that funding actually helps improve recycling in Maine. At this time of this writing, both bills await formal introduction and a hearing before the Joint Standing Committee on Environment and Natural Resources.

Vermont is following Maine, where the Vermont Product Stewardship Council is supporting House Bill 142 that has been filed by Rep. Amy Sheldon, who chairs the Committee on Natural Resources, Fish, and Wildlife. Sen. Christopher Bray, who chairs the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Energy, also appears likely to sponsor a bill on this topic.

Andy Hackman is a lobbyist with Serlin Haley based in Washington, D.C.