U.S. packaging companies can learn a lot about extended producer responsibility (EPR) by studying how Europe has embraced public policies and worked to develop EPR programs, according to an expert who spoke during a recent webinar sponsored by AMERIPEN.
“Your industries can benefit from all the failures that other companies have had all over the world so I think you can be much more efficient in the future,” says Joachim Quoden, managing director of the Extended Producer Responsibility Alliance (EXPRA) based in Belgium.
EPR in Europe
Founded in 2013, EXPRA has 31 members representing countries that are primarily in Europe but also South America, Israel, and Canada. Quoden says his organization works closely with EUROPEN, which is the European counterpart to AMERIPEN—American Institute for Packaging and the Environment, a U.S.-based nonprofit that promotes packaging sustainability.
In Europe, countries have developed 27 different EPR programs, with some countries developing multiple approaches to how programs are implemented, Quoden says during the presentation called “Packaging EPR Has Arrived in the U.S.—Now What?”
If programs can be developed that are similar across borders, that is ideal, he and other says.
Programs Start in U.S.
In the United States so far, four states passed EPR laws and are in the process of developing the rules and guidelines for how they will be administered, says Andy Hackman, a lobbyist for AMERIPEN who works with the firm Serlin Haley in Washington, D.C. Those states are California, Colorado, Oregon, and Maine, he says during the same webinar. While several states are considering EPR laws this year, Hackman says, he thinks at least two more states could add EPR programs this year.
And each state is taking its own approach to EPR, he adds. “We don’t have a consensus model on what EPR looks like in the United States,” Hackman says, adding that he doesn’t think that a federal EPR law is imminent.
Strong Support in Europe
Politicians who developed negative opinions about packaging realized they couldn’t solve the problems on their own. Consumers, meanwhile, were expecting companies to handle packaging waste, Quoden says. “Authorities have not solved this matter by themselves, so we learned that we can solve it together in a better way,” he says. “I think that is the sexiness of EPR because it has this cooperative and collaborative approach.” Companies that embrace EPR find that they can retain enough control to influence changes if parts of a program are not working, Quoden says.
He emphasizes that EPR is an individual responsibility of a company to handle its own products and the end use for packaging. But producer responsibility organizations (PROs) can be formed to find the most efficient way to fulfill recycling targets set by governments and serve the needs of all stakeholders.
Maintaining Some Control
With companies paying into a system, they can get a say in how the systems are developed, which informs how they should design packages to limit how much waste goes into landfills, incinerators or the environment, Quoden adds. “I would say a big advantage of EPR is that those people who are paying the bill have some control over the money,” he adds.
The habits of citizens and consumers must be factored in because they play a large role in the collection and sorting systems. They also will have choices about what products they buy and might look for alternatives that are more sustainable if companies don’t respond with more sustainable packaging. “They have to know the system, and they have to trust the system,” Quoden says about citizens. “Trust-building and transparency are very important.”
Quoden advises against financing EPR systems with taxes because taxes often go into general funds that end up being used for unrelated programs. Fee structures provide more control where companies can at least be assured that their money will directly fund solutions. “Who pays for the music will decide which music is played,” he says.
It’s also important to have a good system for reporting how money is collected and spent because those who are paying fees will want transparency, Quoden says. And governments need to make sure they are enforcing the laws that they pass and have the resources to monitor progress to make sure everyone is participating fairly.
Neil Menezes, sustainability policy manager at General Mills, points out that companies need to pay close attention to how their packages might be assessed in cost structures set up through EPR programs. In looking at Canada, he notes that five provinces have developed EPR programs, with each setting up different systems. For example, in Quebec, the municipality maintains complete control, while in British Columbia, industry retains 100% of the control, Menezes says.
Also, different requirements might exist for how packaging is handled. In some areas, for example, there are beverage deposit programs, while others don’t require deposits. “It really speaks to the importance of harmonization,” Menezes says.
In addition, it can be challenging to figure out how much a company must pay into a system based on the weight of packaging. The calculations can become complex, and the fees can change by packaging type. Those calculations also can help determine whether it is cost effective, or even feasible, to switch to a lower-cost packaging type, he adds. “The fees are really driven by weight, as well as the packaging type,” Menezes says, so a slight error in calculations or classifications can lead to significant increases in costs.
More on Webinar Series
The February webinar was the first in a six-part series that will run through July 12. Here is the rest of the schedule:
- March 15, 12 p.m. EST: “States Perspectives on Implementation”
- April 19, 12 p.m. EST: “Understanding Producer Responsibility Organizations and Management Structures”
- May 17, 12 p.m. EST: “Considering Compostable and Hard to Recycle Materials”
- June 12, 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 on the AMERIPEN website.