Currently, 40 percent of the 17 million tons of waste generated annually in New York State comes from product packaging and paper products (PPP). Falling under this category are plastic containers, glass bottles, aluminum cans, newspaper, and cardboard. In the United States only 50% of PPP is recycled, and in New York State the rate of recycling PPP hasn’t changed in nearly 20 years. The financial and physical responsibility to properly dispose of and recycle these products currently falls on the consumer. A solution to this excessive waste from brand packaging is Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR). This is a policy approach which shifts the responsibility (financial and/or physical) of the post-consumer stage of a product back to the producer.
While there is currently no EPR policy in place for PPP in the United States, the concept does exist elsewhere. Extended Producer Responsibility for PPP exists in both Canada and the European Union. Throughout the EU, this ranges from mandatory regulations to voluntary agreements between industries and governments. EPR also exists for electronic waste in the United States. Some governments and/or regulatory agencies currently provide incentives for EPR of electronic waste, and there are companies, such as Dell and Sony, that have voluntarily been incorporating EPR into their waste management. Within New York State, pharmaceutical drugs and paints also already have EPR in place.
While Extended Producer Responsibility is not a new concept, adopting it for product packaging and paper products would make New York the first state to do so, while also significantly reducing our waste from PPP. Currently the New York State Senate is considering S. 1185-B which would establish the Extended Producer Responsibility Act for paper and packaging products. The State Assembly is considering very similar legislation that we expect to be amended to match the Senate version at some point. This would require producers to take responsibility by either funding existing municipal recycling programs or by creating a new recycling system. This would help to improve New York’s recycling rate, divert materials from landfills, and ease financial burdens on municipal recycling programs.
A study from the public policy school at Harvard University in 2013 reports that Extended Producer Responsibility can help municipalities save money. This was seen in Hennepin County, Minnesota during its first year of an EPR program for electronic waste, where the county reported saving over $680,000. Additionally, EPR programs are theorized to help producers save money by encouraging them to create products that are more durable, more recyclable, less toxic, and less resource intensive.
The New York League of Conservation Voters advocates for reducing waste in New York State, which is why we support legislation to establish the Extended Producer Responsibility Act for paper and packaging products. It would make New York State a leader in reducing waste from PPP. We hope to see this legislation pass both houses of the State Legislature by Earth Day.
Click here to send a message to your legislator asking them to pass the bill by Earth Day.