As more states move toward extended producer responsibility (EPR) laws and regulations for packaging, government officials should include industry representatives who will run the programs so fair fees can be assessed and to encourage flexibility after the systems are up and running, says Allen Langdon, CEO of Canada-based Circular Materials.
“One of the benefits we’ve had in Canada is that there has been a lot of flexibility given to producers to design and operate a system,” Langdon said during an online presentation on April 19 that was part of a webinar series exploring EPR laws and regulations in the United States. Circular Materials is the Canadian not-for-profit producer responsibility organization (PRO) that was created to run Ontario’s EPR programs. “ … When I look at what we’ve been able to achieve in Canada within that framework, I think it’s been successful,” he added.
Ontario is expected to implement its expanded program by July, with New Brunswick following later this year and Alberta in 2025 with new programs. “We expect by 2026 that most, if not all, Canadian jurisdictions will have transitioned to EPR and have a program up and running,” Langdon said during the presentation.
In the U.S.
So far in the United States, four states have passed EPR laws and are in various stages of implementation. Langdon says he sees U.S. legislators building in too many “guardrails,” where the intent is to load extra costs onto producers in the name of EPR but then not give producers the flexibility and authority to make changes and improve the systems, as needed. “And that to me would be the nightmare scenario,” Langdon said during the seminar sponsored by AMERIPEN—American Institute for Packaging and the Environment, a U.S.-based trade association that promotes packaging sustainability.
The presentation was the third in a six-part AMERIPEN series titled Packaging EPR Has Arrived in the U.S. — Now What? that started in February with the webinar titled “What and Where is Packaging Producer Responsibility?” The first segment looked at EPR generally, followed by a presentation in March on the states’ perspectives on implementation. The presentation on April 19—“Understanding Producer Responsibility Organizations and Management Structures”—included insights from Paul Grenier, manager of government affairs for Clorox in Canada, and Mariagiovanna Vetere, global public affairs director of NatureWorks, who primarily spoke about the EPR programs in Italy.
In the past two years, Maine, Oregon, Colorado, and California have passed EPR laws that are in various stages of implementation. Alison Keane, president and CEO of the Flexible Packaging Association (FPA), notes during the presentation that the different EPR models have proven to be a source of frustration as companies try to understand and meet the various criteria the laws outline. Keane, who moderated the event, points out that a needs assessment is being conducted in each state that should give stakeholders a baseline of information, whether systems are state-run or run by PROs. She suggests that one issue has been a lack of trust among the various stakeholders and asks the panelists if they have advice.
Grenier says he has noticed efforts in Maine and New York in EPR proposals to pass costs from local governments to producers without thinking that aspect through. “The aspirational goal should be about creating a circular economy for these materials and having producers as a partner,” he said, adding that Clorox has products throughout Canada and has been working closely with implementing EPR there. Industry-led PROs will have incentives to find ways to streamline systems and remove extraneous costs created by multiple systems across various local governments. Harmonization efforts should start at the collection point and go through to the end of life, with recycled materials going back into the supply chain.
In Canada, a fee system requires producers to pay into it based on how much waste they are creating. But that also means they can get a proportional amount of post-consumer recycled (PCR) content back at the end if they want it. They would have a “right of first refusal” as to whether they take the PCR. As one of its services, Circular Materials will work to develop the best system to return materials to producers so they can meet their goals for using recycled content. Its other services include comprehensive compliance services and national harmonization of producer services and recycling supply chains to achieve scale and deliver efficiencies, Langdon says.
In Italy, converters primarily pay into the EPR system, which would be problematic in the U.S. because a converter would have difficulty figuring out where its packages end up so it can pay the right amount and follow the material through the recycling streams, Keane says.
Vetere says the system works in Italy because converters are the ones designing the packages, and that reduces the number of entities that have to pay into the system. It is a practical solution because the country has many small, family-owned companies and small retailers, she adds.
In Italy, PRO is known as CONAI, which is a private nonprofit consortium that works to ensure recycling and recovery targets are met for packaging waste under European Union packaging regulations. The consortium also works to help municipalities and composting plants increase biowaste collection and recycling. And the system was set up with strong input from industries.
Langdon cautions U.S. legislators from going too far and not including industry representatives in the decision-making process. “The one stakeholder that’s really losing out is the consumers,” he said. “ … Start with the basics and get a program that can actually collect this material and improve outcomes.”
Trying to do too much at the beginning would be a mistake. “And then you can look at complimentary legislation to achieve additional objectives,” he adds.
More on Webinar Series
The six-part series on EPR will continue May 17, with the last installment on July 12. Here is the rest of the schedule:
- May 17, 12 p.m. EST: “Considering Compostable and Hard to Recycle Materials”
- June 14, 12 p.m. EST: “Role of Market Development in Packaging Producer Responsibility”
- July 12, 12 p.m. EST: “Influencing Packaging Design through Eco-modulation”
Registration details and more information can be found at www.ameripen.org/page/eprwebinarseries.
Thomas A. Barstow is senior editor of FlexPack VOICE®.