The Recycling Partnership (TRP) recently hosted a webinar called, “By the Numbers: Transforming U.S. Recycling with EPR.” The panelists on the program were: Dylan de Thomas, VP of public policy & government affairs, TRP; McKenna Morrigan, strategic advisor, Seattle Public Utilities; Lynn Hoffman, Co-president, Eureka Recycling; Stefani Millie Grant, head of external affairs, Unilever; and Kirsten Witt, policy director, The Coca-Cola Company.
Showcasing voices from across the recycling value chain, the speakers shared their unique perspectives on EPR, discussed TRP’s “Increasing Recycling Rates with EPR Policy” report, highlighted resources for policymakers, and more.
The speakers began by talking about why EPR legislation is needed. De Thomas noted several reasons including, “to unlock the start of the recycled-content supply chain for manufacturers, capture the more than 30 million tons of U.S. household recyclables wasted annually, strengthen the domestic supply chain for sustainable manufacturing feedstock, and deliver billions of dollars of economic benefits.”
De Thomas went on to discuss TRP’s latest report, which looked at seven jurisdictions worldwide to observe “the impact seen in those countries and provinces of increasing recycling rates, and what we would expect to see if we implemented EPR at the state level here in the U.S.” The study strongly indicated that all U.S. states could expect an increase in their printed paper and packaging (PPP) recycling rates for with the implementation of an EPR law.
The TRP report specifically calls out Belgium, whose EPR program has the highest recycling rate of all jurisdictions studied. Its overall recycling rate reached 95% in 2020, despite a global recycling downturn. And the country’s plastic recycling rate grew from 38%, when its EPR law was passed, to 52% in 2021.
Morrigan then spoke about how Seattle Public Utilities is “working alongside other local governments to advocate for adoption of a well-designed EPR program in Washington.” She noted that, “Despite decades of investment by local governments and the recycling industry in Washington, more than half of the recyclable paper and packaging in our state still ends up in landfills every year.”
Morrigan went on to explain how Seattle has done “all the things that are usually pointed to as best practices: pay-as-you-go pricing for garbage service, to incentivize recycling; universal service; and extensive investment in outreach and education.” But, “we are fighting an uphill battle; we can’t keep up with the rapid changes happening in packaging that are creating confusion for residents, contributing to greater rates of contamination, and requiring increasingly sophisticated equipment and processing. We need producers to be part of the recycling system going forward—being a partner in excellent recycling outcomes.”
Hoffman then spoke about the work of Eureka Recycling, a nonprofit social enterprise based in Minnesota, which operates a MRF. She noted that, “In our view as recyclers, we really see that EPR has the potential to improve recycling in a few important ways. First, that it can really push improvements upstream, to regulate and standardize the packaging stream. MRFs are really manufacturers, and the more that we can standardize our streams, the more cost effective and circular we can be.”
Hoffman went on to note that the smart design of an EPR policy is of the utmost importance, starting with a need to “really focus on watertight definitions of recycling and recyclable.” Also, “We’re paying attention to how eco-modulation is designed, in driving reduction and redesign, decreasing toxins in the system, and incentivizing recycled content.” And, “We’re looking for appropriately ambitious targets, requiring strong oversight and accountability.”
Grant then discussed how Unilever has discovered that, “We really do need to support optimal EPR regulations. But, each country’s regulations must reflect the unique waste-management requirements of that country. You can’t take what’s working in Europe and just plop it down in the U.S.” She went to say that, “We want to see the recycling system boosted and we want to close the gap between what is technically recyclable and actually recyclable; we want to make sure the money is invested in the right places and hold businesses accountable for the packaging decisions they make.” Grant noted that Unilever’s overarching mantra and framework is: “Less plastic. Better plastic. No plastic.”
Witt then shared Coca Cola’s perspective and noted that, like Unilever, “We share the same focus of building that circular economy for our packaging. We believe it’s the best way to recover materials and address the problem of packaging waste.” The company’s goals include making its bottles and cans with 50% recycled content by 2030; reducing the use of virgin plastic by 3 million metric tons by 2025; and making all of its packaging recyclable by 2025. She noted that their industry has come together “to identify what good policy would look like.” Some of the criteria they established to help determine whether a policy could work in the U.S. include: it needs to be industry run through a nonprofit producer responsibility organization; producer fees should be set by material type; and there needs to be a clear role for government oversight.