The year 2023 was difficult with the volume of legislation introduced that would have directly impacted the flexible packaging industry. What is remarkable for 2023, however, is that it looks like no state will pass a new law and join the four states that have passed extended producer responsibility (EPR) laws for packaging since 2021.
This year, we saw legislatures act more cautiously with EPR, pushing through needs-assessment legislation rather than full-blown EPR. However, in 2023, we saw the anti-plastic rhetoric continue, with the introduction of plastic packaging ban bills on both coasts.
New Jersey remains the only state that could move forward with EPR for packaging, packaging labeling requirements, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) restrictions in consumer products. However, it is an election year in New Jersey. And there will be a short period of time—after the November election—where legislation could move forward on any of these topics before the end of the year.
Following a strong push for EPR for packaging in the state Senate in 2021, 2022, and 2023, EPR did not move in the state. But this sets up 2024 as a probable year for EPR.
The 2023 EPR bill did not pass, even though there was an in-depth stakeholder process and new authors taking over the issue. Continued resistance from local hauling businesses remained the key obstacle to this issue passing in 2023 as was the case in 2022.
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. Instead, legislation did pass, but it only created an EPR advisory committee, a recycling needs-assessment study, and the endorsement of a producer responsibility organization.
A new trend has emerged with California’s Assembly Bill 1290 and Maine’s state bill 1645, which would have banned the sale of certain types of plastic packaging due to the presence of certain chemicals, the use of materials (like polyvinyl chloride, polyvinylidene chloride, and others), and certain design factors such as opaqueness that a package might have. The bills did not move forward this year due to concerns about impacts on products sold in those packages, especially food.
PFAS restrictions continue to proliferate, especially as communities deal with environmental contamination issues. Landmark legislation was passed in Minnesota that will ban intentionally added PFAS in all products, including packaging, in 2032. But it will ban certain product categories earlier in 2025 and require reporting of intentionally added PFAS in 2026. This law somewhat copies Maine’s PFAS law from 2021.
But it does not exempt packaging and ignores Maine delaying the implementation of its reporting requirements until 2025 due to complexities with reporting requirements.
Overall, new trends continue to emerge that will take effort for the flexible packaging industry to address for years to come. Additionally, as the existing EPR laws are implemented, increased communication with customers, suppliers, and third-party organizations administering portions of these laws will be critical to ensuring the industry’s viability.
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.