Breakthroughs in Packaging Laws Could Mark 2024

Will legislator pass another major packaging law in 2024? And how will current packaging laws be implemented? Those are two important questions as we monitor initiatives in states this year.

Despite restraint this past year, 2024 has some significant potential for state legislators to pass new laws, but it is also a “short” year, with major elections and less time in some states to devote to policymaking.

Over the past five years, we witnessed some of the most spirited debates on recycling and packaging policy in decades. During these debates, state policymakers continue to express concerns about plastic pollution. Since 2021, we have seen four states pass extended producer responsibility (EPR) laws for packaging, two states passed recycled content mandates for certain types of packaging and products, and one state passed a recyclable packaging labeling standard.

In states where laws are on the books, regulations are being drafted this year that will impact the bottom lines of companies.

Three major issues continue to be at the forefront: EPR for packaging, recyclable labeling claims, and packaging material bans. Here is a snapshot of those issues in 2024 so far.

EPR for Packaging

This year, EPR for packaging bills are pending in Washington state, New Jersey, New York, Tennessee, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Hawaii, Minnesota, and Illinois. The structure and impact of EPR varies widely. Some states like Minnesota and Washington give relative control to producers to design an EPR system.

However, proposals in New Hampshire, New York, and New Jersey would have state governments collecting fees from industry while the states run the programs.

Earlier in the year, a front-runner for passing a new law in 2024 had not emerged, but things can change quickly as we saw in 2021 and 2022.

Recyclable Labeling Claims

Several states are currently considering broad laws that would ban the use of recyclable symbols and labels unless a packaging material meets recycling thresholds within that state.

Some of these thresholds are as high as 75% recycling rates. These states include Maine, New Jersey, Washington, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts.

Packaging Material Bans

Additionally, California and Rhode Island are once again considering bills that would ban the use of certain materials like polyvinyl chloride and polystyrene in all forms of packaging.

Current Rulemaking

In addition to pending legislation, rulemaking has started across the four states with EPR laws for packaging. Regulations are necessary to empower the respective state agencies to oversee the programs and to give guidance to producers and producer responsibility organizations (PROs) on their obligations.

Because each state’s EPR program is unique, the timing and scope of their regulatory development vary.

Colorado is on pace to be one of the first states to adopt EPR rules, which are on track to be effective by July 1, 2024. Its rulemaking reflects and clarifies what is in the statute and provides more details about enforcement.

Maine is also targeting this summer for the adoption of its program rules. They comprehensively cover the design of the program and outline reimbursement formulas for recycling providers.

Oregon’s final rulemaking phase will be completed late this year, and applicable rules include developing fees that producers and PROs will pay.

Finally, California’s rules are due by January 1, 2025, and the draft proposal is extensive at over 100 pages. Its proposal includes an exemption application process and a framework for approving third-party certification entities for composting requirements.

In summary, for companies in the flexible packaging industry, state policies taking shape in 2024 will be shaping business practices for you and your customers for years. 

Lauren Aguilar is a government affairs associate at the firm Serlin Haley, a lobbyist for the Flexible Packaging Association based in Washington, D.C. Andy Hackman also is a lobbyist with Serlin Haley.