Late last year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published its National Recycling Strategy: Part One of a Series on Building a Circular Economy. The report identifies strategic objectives and stakeholder-led actions to create a stronger, more resilient, and cost-effective recycling system. It is part one of a series dedicated to building a circular economy, where material use is reduced, materials are redesigned to be less resource-intensive, and waste is recaptured as a resource for new products. Sound familiar? It should—the Flexible Packaging Association (FPA) has been advocating for the same approach to modernizing the U.S. recycling system and providing an “on-ramp” for flexible packaging, which does not have a clear pathway to circularity under the current system.
Meanwhile, the bipartisan infrastructure package includes a $275 million investment in a federal grant program to prevent plastic debris from polluting marine environments and having adverse effects on human health and wildlife, plus $75 million to help educate households and consumers about residential and community recycling. EPA’s strategy, along with that infrastructure package, is good news for working toward modernizing our recycling system to include flexibles. FPA continues to work with states such as Vermont, Maryland, and Connecticut on model producer responsibility legislation that will help fund this transformation. But two bills are already on the books in Maine and Oregon, and they take vastly different approaches that FPA does not support. A recyclable labeling bill in California also conflicts with federal law, as well as 30 other state regulations on the subject. Those issues mean that the need for federal leadership is critical. This year, the Federal Trade Commission is updating its “Green Guides,” which dictate what can be labeled as recyclable and what would be deemed deceptive. FPA will be part of this process to ensure that our industry is represented and our policy positions on the need for modern infrastructure and harmonization in the U.S. are heard.
The National Recycling Strategy highlights several key issues with the current recycling system. These include consumer confusion and subsequent contamination, recycling infrastructure not keeping pace with today’s waste stream, and limited markets for recycled materials. EPA also highlights the issue of food waste and its environmental harm. To address these challenges, EPA recognizes five objectives to ultimately increase the national recycling rate to 50% by 2030. These plans align closely with FPA’s stated position on circularity, our work with the Recycling Leadership Council, and our 2021 report, A Flexible Packaging Path to a Circular Economy: Flexible Packaging Sustainability Roadmap. That roadmap provides information, knowledge, and insights related to flexible packaging and sustainability, the circular economy, legislative trends, and impacts to the industry, along with key outcomes and actions to enable the industry to align with circular economy principles where materials are collected, sorted, processed, and turned back into new products or packaging.
Alison Keane, Esq., IOM, CAE
President and CEO
Flexible Packaging Association