EPR Laws Shift Costs of Recycling Back to Packaging Producers

3 large rolls of plastic packaging in a packaging plant

October 19, 2021

Extended Product Responsibility laws in a growing number of states require packaging producers to contribute to the cost of recycling their products

Several states have passed or are considering Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) legislation that will require producers of plastic, paper, glass, and other packaging to help fund the recycling of those materials. Previously, recycling and its financial costs were the responsibility of consumers, citizens, and local governments. Newly enacted laws in Maine and Oregon, along with a growing list of other states considering EPR laws, signal a changing reality for packaging producers.

Maine's law LD1541 was enacted on July 12, while Oregon enacted a similar law (SB582) on August 20. Under both statutes, producers will make annual payments related to Packaging Stewardship and Producer Responsibility. The annual fees will be based on recyclability characteristics of the products sold, including post-consumer material content, product-to-package ratios, material choice, life cycle, and recycling rate.

Under Maine's law, producers will have an alternative option to manage materials under an approved alternative collection program. Annual fees incentivize producers to reduce the environmental and human health impacts of their products. Other states, including Pennsylvania (HB1873), Vermont (H0142), California (SB54), Hawaii (SB1419), Massachusetts (S517S610H878H948), New York (A05801S01185C), and New Jersey (A5680), have proposed bills related to EPR, along with a proposed federal bill (US HR2238). Many of these bills would require producers or associated responsible organizations to submit Producer Responsibility Plans to sell products or materials within the state and would apply to more producers than Maine's LD1541, given their lower gross annual revenue requirements. These legislative proposals are also limited to manufacturers producing more than one ton of relevant material annually.

The suite of legislative proposals and enacted laws reflects changing consumer attitudes towards plastic packaging. Plastic packaging is often the most carbon- and cost-efficient packaging for delivering goods to consumers, but packaging of any sort becomes a burden to the consumer who must assume responsibility for that waste. While municipal-funded curbside recycling has been a fixture of modern life, only 9% of plastic collected is recycled. The new EPR laws respond to consumer pressure to create additional producer-funded options for post-consumer plastic waste.

How Exponent Can Help

New EPR regulations present complex challenges associated with assessing end-of-life management strategies for packaging. Exponent has the scientific and engineering expertise to help our clients determine whether EPR laws apply to their products and identify appropriate strategies given the regulatory, performance, consumer preference, and cost constraints for products. Exponent scientists and engineers are experts in polymer degradation as well as environmental fate and effects. Our team understands the changing regulatory landscape of plastics packaging and is equipped to offer guidance and resources to help industrial partners adapt to changes in the market. Whether through product formulation and manufacturing, analyzing product lifecycles, enhancing product stewardship, or assessing end-of-life impacts to the environment, Exponent can help our clients navigate this changing landscape by offering integrated expertise from polymer scientists, materials chemists, chemical engineers, ecologists, toxicologists, and chemical regulation professionals.