NWRA responds to proposed EPR legislation

NWRA responds to proposed EPR legislation

The proposed legislation would require a nationwide container deposit program.

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U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, D-New Mexico, and U.S. Rep. Alan Lowenthal, D-California, have drafted legislation that is aimed at reducing plastic waste that they hope would go into effect this fall. 

According to a press release about the proposed legislation on Udall’s website, the proposal “includes a mix of phase-outs of certain single-use consumer products, an extended producer responsibility (EPR) for those and other products and deposit or charge requirements at the consumer retail level.”

Some components of the proposed legislation include:

Obligations for producers: Producers would be required to design, manage and finance programs for end-of-life management of their products and packaging as a condition of sale. These programs may or may not use existing collection and processing infrastructure. Programs should cover all products in a given category. Producers would also help cover costs of waste management and clean up.

Nationwide container deposit requirements: Place a national deposit requirement on beverage containers (all materials, including glass, plastic and aluminum) to be added at the retail level and returned to consumers for returning containers. Nonrefunded monies would go into the federal fund to assist with collection infrastructure. This also would require major beverage retailers to install and operate reverse vending systems to promote collection of containers.

Carryout bag fee: A fee would be placed on the distribution of available carryout bags. That fee would be deposited into a federal fund.

Plastic ban of certain products: Where alternatives are readily available and affordable, the most commonly polluted single-use plastic products would be banned from the market in the near future. The ban would apply to lightweight plastic carryout bags, cups and lids, cotton buds, cutlery, plates, straws, snack packaging and drink stirrers, which will all have to be made exclusively from reusable or more sustainable materials instead. Exceptions would be made for persons with disabilities until safe and adequate alternatives are developed.

Styrofoam: This would ban the use of expanded polystyrene (EPS) in food-ware, disposable coolers and shipping packaging.

Labeling requirements: Consumer products made from plastic would require a clear and standardized labeling which indicates how waste should be disposed and the presence of plastics in the products. 

Awareness measures: States would be encouraged to raise consumers’ awareness about the negative impact of littering of single-use plastics and other items as well as about the available reuse systems and waste management options for all these products.

Collection targets: Goals would be set for states to collect a high percentage of single-use plastic drink bottles in the near future. Also, targets would be set to standardize recycling collection across communities and states.

Federal fund: A federal fund would be set up and proceeds from carryout bag fees, unused container deposit requirement and other revenues will ensure resources are available for pollution reduction, remediation programs and innovation research. 

“We have passed a tipping point in the plastic pollution crisis,” Udall said July 18 when he announced the proposed legislation. “We are in dire need of action to tackle this enormous problem. The ripple effects of plastic waste are everywhere: in our neighborhoods, our rivers and oceans, our food and water and even inside our bodies. And on top of all that, the public is having to shell out more and more of their hard-earned money to fund clean up and disposal of these products that were manufactured and sold—for a profit. We need to work across industry sectors and with all stakeholders on solutions that reduce plastic waste and make the marketplace more accountable—and sustainable.”

The lawmakers requested input from stakeholders on the bill until Aug. 21. 

Industry response

The National Waste and Recycling Association (NWRA) sent a letter to Udall and Lowenthal in response to the legislation by the Aug. 21 deadline. According to NWRA, the association believes the proposals outlined by Udall and Lowenthal will lead to more contamination and that Congress should focus on policy initiatives that would expand the domestic recycling market.

“There are better ways to address the issue of reducing plastic waste pollution than by product stewardship or extended producer responsibility financing schemes,” says Darrell Smith, president and CEO of NWRA. “We have concerns that this legislation may put enormous pressure on our materials recovery facility (MRF) infrastructure, which could result in increased contamination. Incentivizing entities to make significant investment in domestic market development would have the potential to create greater stability in the existing recycling infrastructure and spur the development of domestic processing facilities.”

Among the other provisions in the proposed legislation is a nationwide container deposit, commonly known as a “bottle bill.” According to a news release from NWRA on this proposed legislation, bottle bills do not generate markets for recyclables and a national bottle bill would create a separate system, duplicating logistics and driving up costs. The legislation also calls for standardized labeling for recyclables. NWRA believes such a policy would lead to mislabeling further contributing to contamination in the waste stream, the association says.