The year 2023 has proven to be a challenging one for keeping up with state legislative activity in the flexible packaging industry. At the year’s midpoint, it remains to be seen if new standards will be set. It has been another precedent-setting year in terms of the volume of legislation that has been introduced.
In the past two years, we have witnessed some of the most spirited debates on recycling and packaging policy in decades, and state policymakers continue to focus their concerns on plastic pollution. Since 2021, four states have passed extended producer responsibility (EPR) laws for packaging. Two states have passed recycled content mandates for certain types of packaging and products. However, 2023 could be a year where no new EPR laws pass, but the anti-plastics push strengthens. Consider some of the issues:
- New York: Following a strong push for EPR for packaging in the state Senate in 2021 and 2022, EPR remains on the docket. Once again, 2023 has seen the inclusion of EPR in the governor’s 2023 executive budget. However, competing bills have been introduced in the state Senate and Assembly. Yet, as of this writing, no clear shape for EPR has emerged. But it is clear that if a bill passes, it will include recycling rates and dates. Additionally, labeling bills and recycled content requirements are emerging as potential issues to be addressed in the legislature.
- New Jersey: EPR legislation from 2022 carried over into 2023, and the state Senate and Assembly environment committee chairs are leading those debates. January started with a hearing in the senate.
- Washington state: Surprisingly in 2022 and 2023, EPR bills did not move forward, despite new legislative champions taking over the issue. Resistance from local hauling businesses has remained the key obstacle in 2023.
- Maryland: Following productive work in 2021 and 2022, key stakeholders were hopeful that EPR legislation with a collaborative “model” for addressing EPR for packaging would pass. Legislation did pass, but it only created an EPR advisory committee, a recycling needs assessment study, and endorsement of a producer responsibility organization for the state.
- Connecticut: The state Department of Energy & Environmental Protection is continuing to push forward EPR for packaging in the current legislative session and is once again meeting resistance from the hauling community.
- Hawaii: For the past two years, there has been an EPR type of bill introduced in the Aloha state. This year, the bill involved a mandate for a 70% packaging reduction to landfills.
- Oregon: A bill would mandate a 25% reduction in plastic packaging by elimination or reduction by weight. The bill was held in committee, but it shows that states that have passed EPR will continue to try and add new mandates to packaging.
- Plastics bans: A new trend has emerged with California and Maine now considering legislation to ban the sale of certain plastic packaging due to chemical and design factors.
While we won’t know until later in the year the final effects of state decisions, 2023 is shaping up to be an odd year that might not add a new EPR law but could ban very specific applications for flexible packaging materials. As these new laws are implemented, increased communication with customers, suppliers, and third-party organizations administering portions of these laws will be critical to ensuring the viability of the flexible packaging industry for years to come.
Lauren Aguilar is a government affairs associate at the firm Serlin Haley, a lobbyist for FPA based in Washington, D.C. Andy Hackman also is a lobbyist with Serlin Haley.