If 2021 was a landmark year in terms of new packaging policy at the state level, 2022 likely will prove to be another precedent-setting year with the addition of several new state laws. Active conversations in at least a half dozen states indicate that the interest in new packaging policy has not waned and may be even larger.
This year witnessed some of the most spirited debates on recycling and packaging policy in decades. Specific attention and concern about plastic pollution are widespread in the public and the minds of state policymakers. The pace and energy around these issues in the media and social networks continues to grow and, in fact, it has fueled what is likely to be wide and extensive interest in policy to address both perceived and real flaws in the recycling system. As states are the “laboratories of democracy,” they have gone first in putting policies in place for packaging, and this trend will likely continue on the following issues:
EPR for 2022: Following the 2021 passage of Maine’s and Oregon’s Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) laws for packaging, there is likely to be an intense debate on what future EPR laws should look like. The Maine and Oregon laws are creating programs that differ from Canadian EPR programs and rely heavily on state government agencies making decisions about most aspects of the EPR system. However, the laws are different. Therefore, many of the policies other states develop will have to address critical decisions about the scope and structure of such programs. In fact, active discussions are ongoing in several states regarding EPR legislation—including Maryland, Connecticut, New York, Vermont, Washington, and California—and there is much debate over the role of producers and state governments. Time will tell if a model bill, which has stakeholder and industry support, will emerge and if these efforts create a foundation for action on a more national scale.
Labeling: The 2021 debate over recyclability labeling in California, and passage of the first-in-the-nation law, will undoubtedly spur additional states to consider similar measures and impact the ability for packaging to be consistently labeled across all 50 states.
Recycled Content: Passage of recycled-content mandates for certain packages in Washington state and the likelihood of a similar mandate passing in New Jersey have created new interest in this type of policy that is likely to result in several states looking at similar policies in 2022. Additionally, the Northeast Recycling Council’s model policy on this issue, which is due in late 2021, will ensure broad consideration of this topic.
All predictions point to another four to six states that will have new state laws on the above topics. The impact is likely to ripple through the flexible packaging industry for several years to come.
Andy Hackman is a lobbyist with Serlin Haley based in Washington, D.C.