With climate change concerns becoming more pressing and recycling costs on the rise, extended producer responsibility (EPR) legislation is cropping up more often around the world. EPR policy requires manufacturers to bear the financial or physical responsibility for the disposal of their products and packaging.
The European Union popularized the idea of EPR, much like it did with consumer data privacy. Some U.S. states and localities have started to follow suit and propose their own EPR legislation to encourage businesses to put waste reduction first, as a result of the lack of federal intervention in the country.
A State (and Local) Approach
EPR proposals across the states usually contain some combination of programs to improve recycling rates (often in the form of a “take back” deposit-refund system for beverage containers), financial incentives for sustainable packaging designs, a requirement to join a producer responsibility organization (PRO), and some bills even ban certain types of packaging entirely (i.e. single-use plastic bags).
EPR legislation also varies by what types of materials they cover. The most frequently targeted materials are product packaging and paper products (PPP) which include plastic containers, aluminum cans, printed paper, glass bottles and containers, newspapers and magazines, cardboard, plastic film, and single-use items such as straws, cups, and plastic bags.
Even within each state, municipalities are making their own decisions about EPR and recycling, which in some cases gain traction and reach state capitols. According to FiscalNote’s local monitoring software Curate, in 2023 alone these issues have come up in more than 4,300 local government documents across over 2,100 locations. These cover topics such as electronic waste, plastic bans, recycling infrastructure projects, and waste & recycling franchises, among others.
The State of Recycling in 2023
Until 2017, 70 percent of the United States’ plastic waste was sold to China to be recycled into new products, which kept the cost of recycling low for municipalities. After the Chinese government banned almost all recyclable plastic imports in January 2018, recycling costs shot up in the U.S. and many counties suspended their recycling programs as a result.
Lawmakers hope to get their states back on track with recycling by involving paper and plastic producers in the cost of recycling. Most bills in the PPP category aim to create investments in existing recycling infrastructure (for example, by requiring payments for producers based on the weighted amount of packaging material they distribute) and hold manufacturers responsible for the recovery of plastic waste.
Other categories include home furnishings, particularly carpeting and mattresses, and electronic waste and batteries. Laws for carpets and mattresses currently exist in California, Connecticut, and Rhode Island, and they require manufacturers to design and implement a stewardship program and provide consumers with easier access to the collection and recycling of mattresses.
E-waste and batteries including computers, cell phones, printers, and electric vehicle batteries present particular concern as they contain hazardous chemicals and compounds such as lead, mercury, cadmium, and brominated flame-retardants. Many leading electronics manufacturers such as Dell, Samsung, and Apple have now implemented buy-back or refurbishment programs for used electronics and 24 states have implemented some type of EPR requirements for e-waste.
Interest in Extended Producer Responsibility Legislation Spikes
In 2020, FiscalNote users created almost 300 new discovery alerts for EPR legislation. Fast-forward two years and that number doubled with more than 560 new discovery alerts created for this issue in 2022 alone.
FiscalNote users in manufacturing, retail, and software are leading the way in terms of the industries most interested in keeping track of new potential laws.
FiscalNote’s easy-to-use discovery alerts allow you to track any movement on the issues you’re watching and get a heads-up as soon as something happens. With our customized alerts, you can choose the specific keywords you want to monitor for when they come up or change. Plus, you can choose when you’d like to receive alerts and how often. The best part is you’ll be the first to know and you’ll never miss your window of opportunity to act, which is especially important for sensitive topics like extended producer responsibility.
Top 5 Most-Tracked EPR Bills in the US in 2023
1. Washington HB 1131 — Improving Washington's solid waste management outcomes
This bill is designed to improve solid waste management in Washington by encouraging research and innovation to improve ecycling technologies, ease access to curbside recycling, reduce the impact of consumer packaging, increase the use of recycled materials, and ensure that all packaging is reusable, recyclable, or compostable. The legislation stalled in the Senate but its proposed effective date targets Jan. 15, 2024. Producers that offer or sell a covered product in the state will be obliged to register or join an existing producer responsibility organization to continue selling or supplying covered products. Products covered include plastic beverage containers, rigid plastics, flexible plastics, paper, aluminum, steel, and glass. Additionally, the legislation sets minimum post-consumer recyclable content (PCRC) requirements for covered products.
2. Maryland SB 222 — Statewide Recycling Needs Assessment and Producer Responsibility for Packaging Materials
SB 222 was enacted on May 2023 and it updates the definition of "organics recycling" to include the processing of certain compostable packaging materials in a certain manner. The bill also requires the Department of the Environment to approve a single producer responsibility organization to represent the interests of producers by October 1, 2023 and establishes a producer responsibility advisory council to provide advice and make recommendations.
3. Colorado HB 22-1355 — Producer Responsibility Program For Recycling (ENACTED)
In June 2022, Colorado enacted HB 22-1355, which mandates the creation of a statewide recycling program to be managed by a nonprofit organization. The program will provide recycling services to residences, public places, small businesses, schools, hospitality locations, and state and local government buildings. Funding will come from annual dues paid by producers of products that use covered materials, defined as packaging materials and paper products. Before implementation, the organization will conduct a needs assessment and submit a plan proposal. The program will have minimum rate targets, establish a funding mechanism, and set up a formula to reimburse recycling service providers for costs. Producers may submit an individual plan proposal, and an administrative penalty is in place for violation of relevant statutes and rules.
4. New Hampshire HB 253 — Establishing a Committee to Study Extended Producer Responsibility
This bill would establish a committee to study extended producer responsibility with the aim of relieving municipalities of solid waste disposal costs. The committee would consist of members from the state’s House of Representatives and the Senate, appointed by their respective leaders. The committee's duties would include examining waste reduction goals, particularly in municipal recycling, and proposing legislation to update existing laws to better meet those goals. A chairperson would be elected from among the committee members, and the committee would convene its first meeting within 45 days of the act's effective date. The committee would be required to submit its findings, recommendations for legislation, and a report to various officials and entities by November 1, 2023. The act would become effective upon its passage.
5. Hawaii HB 1326 — Related to Establishing Hawaii’s Zero Waste Initiative
HB 1326 was introduced in January 2023 but stalled in the Senate. The bill would establish the Hawaiʻi Zero Waste Initiative to manage the state's transition to a zero solid waste economy. The bill would also institute the Packaging Waste Advisory Council and allow the establishment of a nonprofit producer responsibility organization. HB 1326 would also appropriate funds and pave the way to reduce packaging waste in the state by 70 percent by 2035 and to establish a producer-funded Packaging Reduction, Reuse, and Recycling Program.
Track Every Piece of Legislation and Regulatory Documents with FiscalNote
With this rapid increase in EPR policy across the United States and the world, some things can slip through the cracks — only 5 percent of government affairs professionals say they never miss any important information related to their issues, according to a FiscalNote survey, while more than 80 percent miss at least an occasional update.
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