States Continue Efforts to Hold Producers Responsible for Plastic Pollution
February 4, 2022
At Least Eight States Considering Extended Producer Responsibility Bills in 2022
Washington, D.C. – States across the country are continuing their work to reduce plastic pollution. This year, at least eight states are considering legislation to hold producers accountable for the end-of-life management of plastic packaging. States include Hawaii, Illinois, Kentucky, Maryland, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont, and Washington. A full bill list is available through NCEL’s website.
Last year, states announced the formation of the EPR for Packaging Network. State policymakers know that they are more powerful when acting together. Legislators in this network are exchanging policy ideas, strategies, and lessons learned. In December, legislators came together for a policy strategy session focused on EPR where they had a chance to hear from experts about the topic, learn about others’ successes, and ways to prepare for the legislative session.
“These state legislators are leading the fight toward reducing plastic pollution waste and sustaining healthy communities,” said Jeff Mauk, Executive Director of the National Caucus of Environmental Legislators. “By coordinating a multi-state effort these legislators are paving the way for bold and ambitious EPR policies that can be adapted in the future by other states and perhaps the federal government as well. ”
While many countries across the world have EPR for packaging policies, Maine and Oregon were the first two states to pass bills last year. Their work has paved the way for more states to consider legislation to hold plastic producers responsible.
“Requiring packaging producers to take financial responsibility for managing the waste they create is the best way to shore up our teetering recycling infrastructure and reduce overall packaging waste,” said Maine Representative Nicole Grohoski. “Large corporations, not municipal taxpayers, are the right group to pay for the management of this waste stream in the United States, as they already do in over 40 places worldwide. As the sponsor of Maine’s new recycling reform law, I encourage other states to follow our lead and build on what we accomplished.”
“SB 582-Oregon’s Plastic Pollution and Recycling Modernization Act is a first step in the right direction to making producers responsible for the waste they create,” said Oregon State Senator Janeen Sollman. “Without extended producer responsibility, ratepayers will bear increasing costs, all while the producers who contribute more to marine debris and plastic pollution, pay nothing. I urge other states to follow Oregon’s lead in holding producers accountable for the packaging they use and offering incentives for them to use more earth-friendly materials that will reduce our over-consumption of plastics.”
We Can’t Recycle Our Way Out of the Plastic Pollution Crisis
Only 9% of plastic is recycled. That leaves about 75% of American plastic waste to end up in landfills, and 16% to be incinerated, which releases toxins that put public health at risk. EPR policies aim to increase recycling, reduce the current volume of packaging, and help divert single-use plastics from landfills, ocean dumping, and incineration.
Through EPR legislation, states are also working to address the environmental justice implications of incinerators, packaging contents, and landfills. People of color are nearly twice as likely to live near landfills, and 79% of incineration facilities are located within three miles of low-income areas and communities of color.
There are also economic burdens from plastic pollution. Single-use plastic waste costs the U.S. more than 2.2 trillion dollars per year, with retailers spending 4 billion dollars annually on single-use plastic bags. EPR legislation shifts the economic burden from consumers back to the producers.
Packaging products, like those used for food and beverage packaging, often contain hazardous substances that are harmful to human health. Including recycled content provisions in EPR packaging policies can require manufacturers to eliminate harmful substances in packaging products, such as phthalates, BPAs, and other carcinogens.
State of EPR Legislation in 2022
Below is an outline of the EPR for packaging bills being considered by states.
Hawaii’s HB 2399 establishes an extended producer responsibility program for packaging waste, an update to our state’s electronic-waste program and a host of other bills to reduce sources of plastic pollution.
“For too long humans have been treating the earth as both a boundless source of virgin resources and as a bottomless landfill,” said Hawaii State Representative Nicole Lowen. “It is neither, and as we approach our planet’s limits, the consequences are catastrophic. We must transition to a circular economy that accounts for every step of the lifecycle of products we consume.”
Illinois’ H.B. 4258 requires the state’s environmental protection agency to select and enter into a contract with a packaging stewardship organization to operate a packaging stewardship program meeting specified requirements.
“As we grapple with the effects of climate change, it’s clear that we have a plastic problem that needs creative solutions,” said Illinois Representative Dagmara Avelar. “That’s why I’m excited to be working with a diverse group of stakeholders with a shared goal of making Illinois a leader when it comes to EPR. I’m hopeful that with passage, our proposal can help spur companies to reduce their waste and become more environmentally-conscious with their product decisions.”
Kentucky’s H.B. 108 requires that the producer of a product be responsible for the end of use management of their product including the cost of disposal and recycling. This bill also includes waste reduction targets, recycled content standards while establishing a program that would fund grants using collected producer fees.
Maryland’s H.B.0307/SB292 requires the Department of Environment to conduct a statewide recycling needs assessment every 10 years. It also requires packaging producers to submit a producer responsibility plan before distributing their packaging materials.
“Extended Producer Responsibility for packaging creates a way that producers, local governments, and sustainability advocates can all work together to ensure that we are reducing waste, lessening the burden on taxpayers, and creating more robust recycling systems around our state,” said Maryland Delegate Brooke Lierman. “I’m excited to be working with Senator Augustine and our local governments, producers, and environmental advocates to create a system that works in Maryland.”
New York’s S.B. 1185C requires covered materials and product producers to develop and implement strategies to promote recycling, reuse and recovery of packaging and paper products. The bill is sponsored by Senator Todd Kaminsky.
Vermont’s S.B 236 holds the parties that produce paper and plastic packaging, and single-use food utensils responsible for their collection and recycling. The producers must implement or participate in a plan to carry this out.
Washington’s S.B. 5697 not only creates an EPR system for consumer packaging but also aims to amend Washington’s recycling system and reduce waste by creating a statewide residential recycling system funded by producers.
“In 2022, we shouldn’t be making anything that isn’t reusable, recyclable, or compostable,” said Washington Senator Mona Das. “Waste is a design flaw. The RENEW Act is about reimagining a system we all rely on – recycling – so that it better benefits our earth and better protects consumers. This bill would shift the cost of recycling from ratepayers to producers so that the burden would no longer be on Washington families to figure out a confusing and cumbersome recycling system. We should be making it easier – not harder – for folks to do the sustainable, healthier thing for our planet.”
“As we’re working to pass bold and transformational policies across the country to confront the climate crisis, we must continue to work toward a zero-waste future,” said Washington Senator Liz Lovelett. “In Washington, we are championing Senate Bill 5697 to establish a comprehensive Extended Producer Responsibility program and incentivize the creation of more reusable, recyclable packaging and reduce the waste in our communities. It’s crucial that we act now to protect our planet for generations to come.”
Created by and for state legislators, the National Caucus of Environmental Legislators is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that organizes over 1,200 environmentally-committed state legislators from all 50 states and both parties. NCEL provides venues and opportunities for lawmakers to share ideas and collaborate on environmental issues.