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Updated: AF&PA, NWRA oppose Colorado EPR legislation

The organizations urge Gov. Jared Polis to veto the bill, which targets paper and packaging. However, some local recycling organizations and the APR support the bill.

May 24, 2022

The American Forest & Paper Association (AF&PA), Washington, and the National Waste & Recycling Association (NWRA), Arlington, Virginia, have released statements opposing Colorado’s House Bill 1355—“Producer Responsibility Program for Recycling”—which is an extended producer responsibility (EPR) bill that targets paper and packaging, with the AF&PA urging Colorado Gov. Jared Polis to veto the bill.

“An EPR scheme is not the right policy approach for sustainable paper products,” the AF&PA says in a statement released Wednesday, May 11. “Colorado should instead focus on addressing underfunded and underdeveloped recycling programs.”

The NWRA says in a statement released May 2, “House Bill 1355 disadvantages Colorado businesses against out-of-state competition, punishes consumers and businesses, allows for speculation of recycling materials and doesn’t fix the problem.”

HB 1355 was introduced in March and states that companies that sell consumer-facing packaging and some printed paper join a producer responsibility organization which would then fund and manage a statewide recycling system. There are exceptions for small businesses and some highly regulated packaging, and an amendment would allow producers to submit an individual program plan as an alternative.

The bill passed the state House, the Senate Finance Committee and the Senate Appropriations Committee and most recently passed its third reading on the Senate floor Wednesday, May 11. It has been sent to Polis for signature. 

The AF&PA says EPR is not the right approach for paper as they are traditionally used for hard-to-dispose-of-items or products like mattresses or paint where a robust end-market does not exist. In a late-April briefing, the organization said there already is a robust end-market for paper, referencing a planned or announced approximately $5 billion in manufacturing infrastructure investments by 2024 “to continue the best use of recycled fiber in our products.”

“Colorado’s ‘Producer Responsibility Program for Recycling’ ignores the fact that paper recycling is a success,” the AF&PA says. “More paper by weight gets recycled from municipal waste streams each year than aluminum, glass, steel and plastic combined.”

It continues, “EPR could shift the economic burden of new recycling regulations from municipalities to Coloradans. These added costs would especially hurt small businesses and low-income households.”

According to the AF&PA, 61.1 percent of Coloradans have access to drop-off recycling while 49.8 percent of residents have access to residential curbside paper recycling. The group also says cities like Denver are utilizing innovative technologies to recycle more, including paper cups. The national paper recycling rate also remains high, meeting or exceeding 63 percent each year since 2009, the AF&PA says.

However, at least one MRF operator in the state has voiced its support for the legislation.

The Boston-based Product Stewardship Institute and Eco-Cycle, a Colorado-based nonprofit that operates a material recovery facility for Boulder County, have voiced their support for the legislation, referring to it as "a paradigm shift in the way paper and packaging are designed and managed in the United States."

“We worked for two decades with governments and producers to develop our packaging EPR policy model, which we provided to Recycle Colorado to support the drafting of this bill,” says Scott Cassel, CEO and Founder of the Product Stewardship Institute. “It will serve as an example to other states for years to come.” 

Colorado’s combined recycling and composting rate is just 15 percent, less than half the national recycling and composting rate, according to an annual State of Recycling and Composting report by the Colorado Public Interest and Research Group and Eco-cycle. 

“People believe we have a green state and are shocked to hear how low our diversion rates are,” state Rep. Lisa Cutter, one of the sponsors of HB22-1355. “This bill will protect our climate, create an easier and more consistent system of recycling throughout the state, and contribute to creating a circular economy. We've been laggards in this area and this gives us the opportunity to be leaders."

Kate Bailey, policy director at Eco-Cycle and lead author of the bill, says, “This policy will make it easy for all Coloradans to recycle more plastics, aluminum cans, glass bottles, cardboard, and printed paper. It will also help manufacturers and businesses by creating a more resilient domestic supply of recycled materials to make new products. Amid historic supply chain disruptions, rampant climate change, and pervasive plastic pollution, there has never been a more important time to invest in recycling."

Recycle Colorado, based in Longmont, worked to develop and pass the legislation, holding more than 70 meetings with state and national representatives from all sectors of industry, government and nonprofits. The bill puts responsibility for managing and educating consumers about packaging and paper waste on consumer brands and creates financial incentives for brands to use less packaging and paper overall and increases access to recycling across the state, the organizations that support the bill say. 

Also voicing support for the Colorado legislation is the Association of Plastic Recyclers (APR), Washington, which describes it as "the strongest producer responsibility policy in the nation."

The APR says it "strongly support[s] HB22-1355 being signed into law to create a producer responsibility program to enhance the recycling of packaging and printed paper in Colorado. The producer responsibility program would require consumer brands to finance the recycling of their packaging and printed paper and invest in expanding and modernizing local recycling infrastructure so that programs can handle new packaging materials as well as those not currently recycled."

The association says not enough plastic is collected to meet the growing regulatory and corporate commitments to use more recycled plastics to make new products, adding, "APR recognizes producer responsibility as a crucial policy tool to increase the supply of recycled materials into the economy. Many plastic recyclers across the U.S. are not operating at full capacity and need more material to meet the demands for recycled resin. This policy is greatly needed to increase the supply of recycled plastics to meet existing and future manufacturing needs."

The APR adds, "We urge Gov. Pollis to sign HB22-1355 into law for EPR for packaging and paper products to reinvigorate recycling, reduce waste, and strengthen domestic supply chains."

As of the morning of May 24, the bill had not been signed into law.

Unlike Maine and Oregon’s packaging EPR laws, both passed last year, the bill's supporters say Colorado’s program would be fully funded and managed by producers.

*This article was updated May 24 to add comments from the organizations that supported the bill.