It’s Time To Pass the Packaging Reduction and Recycling Infrastructure Act

by Peter Aronson

Last week, the New York League of Conservation Voters and partner organizations joined Sen. Pete Harckham in Albany as he announced the introduction of the Packing Reduction and Recycling Infrastructure Act.

The bill, which is now in committee in the New York State Senate, is one of the NYLCV’s top priorities in 2023 and is part of the plan to “reduce waste sent to landfills by 90% by 2040,” as we stated in our 2023 State Agenda.

With the average New Yorker producing an astonishing five pounds of trash per day, accumulating to a total of 15 million tons of waste statewide per year, Sen. Harckham’s bill (S4246) would shift the burden and responsibility for reducing packaging waste to the producing companies.

Specifically, the bill, if it becomes law, would require companies with net income of more than $1 million who sell or distribute certain materials and products to reduce packaging and toxins in the packaging and improve and help pay for municipal recycling. “This legislation shifts the onus of recycling from municipalities and ensures that producers of products are serving our interests by establishing solutions to sustainable packaging,” the bill’s summary states.

If New York passes the bill, it would be the fifth state to have such a law, following Maine, Oregon, Colorado and California.

Gov. Kathy Hochul once again threw her support behind a similar bill in her 2023 Executive Budget after also pushing for such a bill in last year’s budget negotiations.

Waste is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, accounting for 12% of the state’s total output. Packaging and paper waste in particular has grown dramatically with the rise of the delivery economy, with no signs of letting up. By requiring producers to internalize the cost of the waste their products create, they are financially incentivized to reduce the amount of waste they produce in the first place.  

With so much waste being produced “our recycling system remains broken,” explained Julie Tighe, NYLCV’s president. “New Yorkers only recycle about 17% of their waste, with far too much of our packaging waste ending up in landfills.” 

This new proposal would help New Yorkcreate a circular economy,” she explained, “that will prioritize recycled and recyclable materials. We can do this by creating incentives for producers to use less packaging in the first place.” 

This proposal would shift the financial burden of recycling away from taxpayers and municipal governments and instead back to the producer, to compel these companies to use materials that are easier to recycle and generate less waste overall. 

This approach is already in use in New York for multiple products, including e-waste, paint and pharmaceuticals. And just last year, thanks to the work of Senator Kavanagh, Assemblymember Englebright, Senator Harckham and others, we were able to get the Extended Producer Responsibility bill for carpets passed and signed into law by Governor Hochul. 

The Packaging Reduction and Recycling Infrastructure Act would be the next step on our path to zero waste.

We applaud Senator Harckham for introducing the bill. We also applaud Governor Hochul for pushing a similar measure in her Executive Budget. 

Now we urge the State Legislature and Governor to come together to pass this bill, so that it establishes strong minimum rates for diversion, recycled content, and waste reduction, cuts toxic chemicals in packaging, and makes producers responsible. This would be a game-changing step forward.