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Extended Producer Responsibility Legislation: 2021 State Trends

by Amber Fording, FiscalNote

A look at the increasing interest in extended producer responsibility policy across the United States


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With climate issues top of mind and the cost of recycling increasing, some states are considering a new approach. Extended producer responsibility (EPR) places the financial or physical responsibility of packaging and products’ end of life on manufacturers. 

As manufacturers have the most control over product packaging, the goal is to incentivize industries to prioritize waste reduction. Like consumer data privacy, the concept of EPR was made mainstream by the European Union. With the lack of federal intervention in the United States, a handful of states have begun to follow suit and introduce their own EPR legislation. 

A State-by-State Approach

EPR proposals 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 ban certain types of packaging entirely (i.e. single use plastic bags).

EPR bills also vary 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. 

The State of Recycling in 2021

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, many counties suspended their recycling programs when recycling costs subsequently shot up. Many lawmakers now 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 holding manufacturers responsible for the recovery of plastic waste.

Other categories include home furnishings, particularly carpeting and mattresses, and electronic waste and batteries. Laws for carpet 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 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 EPR Legislation Spikes

Interest in EPR legislation has skyrocketed this year with FiscalNote users in manufacturing, advocacy, and retail leading the way in terms of the industries most interested in keeping track of new potential laws. 

In total, FiscalNote users created 299 new discovery alerts related to EPR in 2020. Between January and September 2021, that number had already reached 342.

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 EPR Bills in the US

1. Washington SB 5022 — Concerning the management of certain materials to support recycling and waste and litter reduction

SB 5022 bans the manufacture and sale of Styrofoam by June 2024 and intends to support recycling and waste reduction by requiring all plastic containers for beverages, household cleaning products, personal care products, and trash bags sold in Washington contain up to 50 percent recycled content by 2031. It also would require that consumers specifically request single-use utensils for takeout orders rather than utensils being automatically included. 

2. New York S 1185 — Establishes the extended producer responsibility act

S 1185 would require producers of products (including online sellers) that include packaging to either join a product stewardship organization and pay fees or create their own approved producer responsibility plan within 3 years of the bill taking effect. Exemptions would be provided for producers who generate under $1 million in annual revenue, generate under one ton of the “covered materials” per year, or have a single retail point (and are not part of a franchise). Covered materials include printed paper (i.e. flyers or brochures), all types of plastics, and containers made of either paper or plastic.

3. Oregon SB 582 — Relating to modernizing Oregon's recycling system

SB 582 requires producers to join a producer responsibility organization with variable fees based on the producer’s environmental impact and sets a goal that 25 percent of covered plastic products be recycled by 2028. The PRO would also fund educational campaigns for consumers, upgrades to existing recycling centers, and things like new trucks and containers. 

4. California SB 54 — Plastic Pollution Producer Responsibility Act

SB 54 has gone through several failed iterations in 2019 and 2020. The 2021 version would require all single-use disposable packaging, including food service packaging, to be recyclable or compostable by January 2032. The bill specifically relates to foodware and paper and plastics packaging.

5. Maine LD 1541 (HP 1146) — An Act To Support and Improve Municipal Recycling Programs and Save Taxpayer Money

LD 1541 was the nation’s first consumer packaging EPR law enacted in July 2021 and requires producers to pay into stewardship organizations. Other incentives include creating packaging that is easier to reuse and recycle and will provide funds to improve recycling in the state through education and infrastructure investments.

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