old cardboard recycled
A recycling rate for cardboard of nearly 90 percent makes it an unnecessary target for EPR legislation, trade associations are contending.
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AF&PA decries meaningless average

Paper association questions packaging recycling rate average calculated by "New York Times."

August 9, 2021

The Washington-based American Forest & Paper Association (AF&PA) has responded to a New York Times article in which the author cites an average recycling rate for paper and plastic combined that may well give readers the wrong impression about high paper and board recycling rates.

An Aug. 9 news release from the AF&PA has been issued in response to a late July Times story on the extended producer responsibility (EPR) law passed in Maine, titled, “Maine Will Make Companies Pay for Recycling. Here’s How It Works.”

The article includes a reference to the United States recycling rate for plastics and paper products being 32 percent. The AF&PA says that “is like telling [readers] the average elevation of Denver and Death Valley is about half a mile. It may be technically true, but it clouds over more than it reveals.”

The association adds, “Whatever is true of plastic, the fact is that for all paper, the recycling rate was 66 percent in 2020. The recycling rate for paper-based packaging specifically—like cardboard boxes and corrugated containers—was a whopping 89 percent. In fact, more paper is recycled by weight from municipal waste streams than plastic, glass, steel and aluminum combined.”

Companies who collect, recycle and consume old corrugated containers (OCC) and other paper packaging have expressed uneasiness with the EPR law passed in Maine and another in Oregon that may be poised to place a fee on the already well-established and profitable recycling of OCC.

AF&PA states, “Extended producer responsibility programs would disrupt the most effective recycling streams in the interest of improving the least effective while imposing large new costs on producers who are already being responsible by investing capital to innovate and use a highly renewable and recyclable material—paper.”

The Washington-based Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI), in a policy briefing posted to its website, says recyclers have been known to support EPR programs for difficult to recycle or potentially hazardous materials, such as mercury switches in automobiles.

In that same policy statement, ISRI comments, “EPR can carry risks for recyclers depending on how a program is structured, most notably in who has control over the flow of recyclable materials. If manufacturers are put in charge of the process, their easiest path to compliance is to choose as few ‘winning’ recyclers as possible to handle their entire stream. Putting control in the hands of a government agency can preserve the existing recycling infrastructure but will inevitably lead to increased oversight and licensing requirements.”