The EPR in the United States cannot directly follow the European model; he must avoid a producer monopoly



Neil Seldman is co-founder of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) and director of its Waste to Wealth initiative.

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) statement, describing the system as “a necessary part of the solution to packaging waste and pollution,” expresses a strong desire to address perhaps the most important aspect of contemporary municipal solid waste management. These are complex problems with complex solutions.

In Europe, EPR is an EU-wide mandate attempt to harmonize existing and long-standing national laws, institutions and culture. We should applaud these efforts by government and industry to resolve the issue of producer responsibility for recycling and waste costs and build on the commendable experience of the European Union.

But, are thought and activity in Europe applicable to the United States? Does that tell us?

Two different worlds

Europe and the United States live in different recycling and waste landscapes. The lack of space forces Europeans to live in the immediate vicinity of incinerators. This is not the case in the spacious United States. Locally organized citizens in the United States have failed plans for more than 400 incinerators and are effectively forcing existing garbage incinerators to shut down. The US anti-incineration movement faces new challenges with the introduction of plans to burn waste in cement kilns and burn plastics in gasification / pyrolysis plants.

In Europe, container lockers – or bottle tickets – are the basis of the EPR. There are quotas for refillable containers and incentives for businesses that switch to refillable containers. In the United States, bottle bills have been the declared enemy of the beverage industry, the group that has led lobbying for the EPR, for 60 years – ever since Big Soda outsourced the cost of filling bottles to the United States. American audience. These companies have frantically opposed the new bottle bills and are working to repeal existing ones with religious fervor. Consumer purchasing preferences have now forced U.S. packaging companies to commit to zero waste packaging (recyclable, compostable or reusable) by 2030, as touted by recent corporate TV ads, such as the Every Bottle Back greenwashing campaign. Big Soda may soon change its policy, as producer-controlled “private bottle bills” could capture hundreds of millions of dollars through unreimbursed deposits, as in Oregon and Connecticut.

In Europe, the control of industry by the EPR overturns the theory of the EPR. The “polluter pays” principle becomes a policy of producer control. In the United States, this is seen as a hostile takeover of a vibrant and vital decentralized system of reduction, recycling, reuse and composting.

In Europe, the political culture and the policies of recycling and waste come from the top down. In the United States, the commotion for recycling and waste reduction comes from the grassroots, where citizens can impact local government through lobbying and elections. The bottom-up recycling system in the United States increased recycling from 5% in the 1960s to 35% in the early 2000s, resulting in an industry with 56,000 companies and 750,000 workers with more than $ 300 billion in wages.

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s statement, based on the foundation’s Global Commitment 2020 progress report, maintains that EPR is the only “proven” and “necessary” way to manage recycling. With cities and small towns in the United States hitting rates of 50%, 60%, 70%, and more using methods available for any jurisdiction, the statement is counterintuitive.

U.S. states, cities, and counties have used waste surcharges and service charges to capitalize infrastructure. Newly proposed packaging taxes may focus on hybrid packaging, especially hybrid plastic packaging, to further combat the removal of this harmful material from our lives. Industry investments in the recycling of polypropylene and plastic films are booming. Investment in secondary papermaking is booming, as is investment in the reuse of electronic waste. Another source of renewable capital for infrastructure is the Maine EPR Bill, which focuses on reimbursement of local government expenses to manage recycling and waste and to expand and deepen existing infrastructure needs. More, the Recycling Is Infrastructure Too campaign initiated by Zero Waste USA, the National Recycling Coalition and the ILSR are calling for integrating investments in recycling infrastructure into jobs, infrastructure and environmental bills submitted to Congress. The state’s “right to repair” laws are attracting investment in small repair businesses and vocational training institutions in anticipation of thousands of additional jobs in this sector.

Significant income for infrastructure investments is available through the EPR municipal payback, which is the policy position established by the NRC, GAIA, Sierra Club, Zero Waste USA and the Save the Albatross Coalition after years of debate. Chaz Miller, Senior Industry Solid Waste Analyst, says no to the “EPR monopoly”: “A national political group of REP will have unheard-of power over recycling … something none of us in the United States want.

In 2020, fear of producer control led California to reject a good recycling bill because the EPR gave too much power to the industry. The same thing happened in Washington State in 2021.

Because the issues are so different in the United States than in Europe, the MacArthur Foundation statement does not inform us. Webinars such as the Product Stewardship Institute’s June 17 webinar, with presentations from Maryland, Vermont, and New York, that explain decision-making in each unique circumstance, are much more useful for thinking about the issue of EPR. . With follow-up discussions, we understand the logic of a producer control bill in rural Vermont, as there are no counties and the local government does not provide waste management services. Therefore, the direction is to have an industry controlled system. In neighboring Maine, also a predominantly rural state, the local government provides services, so the bill, now law, demands municipal reimbursement.

These discussions are crucial. The country is alive with a debate on how to proceed – whether to go for a producer EPR, a reimbursement EPR or no EPR and rely on traditional measures that overcome the Big Soda and Big Waste barriers. The problems are far from over. For example, Maine law provides options for producer control, yet to be determined through the rulemaking process. In the Vermont Grower Control Bill, state officials are asking fundamental questions: If Burlington, Vermont, which now uses a single flow, decides to revert to dual flow, the grower control system will he allow it? Markets are attracting cities to this decision. In New Jersey, double-flow processing costs a third less, or $ 30 to $ 40 less per tonne, than single-flow processing. The New Jersey State Market Development Commission is examining single stream versus double stream and associated economics, which will inform local governments.

Likewise, if a California Producer Control Bill passes, can cities and counties sue the industry for cleaning up beach waste and force packers to “tie the cork” to bottles for to protect beach goers and prevent plastic from lakes and seas?

Federation of Legsilation

Healthy debate at state and local level is threatened by Break Free From Plastic Pollution (BFFPP), which would cut off the debate and impose a uniform system based on a federal governance structure. This would prevent the vital and vibrant debate from stimulating thought across the country. Better let it go REP of BFFPP bill; adopt its much-needed clauses on the plastic moratorium, the ban on single-use plastic, the national bottle bill and the emphasis on racial and environmental justice; and allow the debate that is now unfolding in the American body politic to continue over the next several years to enable states and their jurisdictions to create an encyclopedia of ideas and practices to consider as we resolve the plastics and fuel crises. global warming.

In fact, continuing discussions on the nature of REP could help solve the plastic crisis. the BFFPP the invoice has REP control all recycling, but Bill focuses on plastics. Plastic has a recycling rate of 9% and requires different approaches to recycling paper, the rate of which already exceeds 60%.

Congress should strip REP of BFFPP bill and pass the remaining important features. Wait and see what the next few years bring with the state level REP efforts. Congress should immediately focus on supporting infrastructure. Federal action could also increase the value of secondary materials in the economy through a carbon tax, which increases the value of secondary materials with built-in labor, energy and extraction costs. In addition, the US government should provide matching grants to states that apply surcharges on waste disposed of in landfills and incinerators with funds dedicated to investment in recycling infrastructure.

Supporters of producer control REP “Did not consider the consequences of their agenda,” longtime activist Alan Muller of Green Delaware said in correspondence years ago.

In the United States, recycling is making a comeback after the 2018 Chinese market loss debacle caused by decades of single-stream recycling. Private and public investment is pouring in, new rules are being adopted locally, and we are on the cusp of needed federal support since the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act came into effect in 1976.

Federal control of producers REP the legislation will put an end to bottom-up progress and put control in the hands of the packaging industry – an industry that has been content with poor recycling for two decades and whose current investment plans will expand methods of sloppy recycling at the cost of high-tech separation equipment. The United States can do much better by going back to its roots in citizen unrest and local control.


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