EPR remains a topic of debate among recyclers. While some have expressed support for its application to some commodities as a measure that could boost demand for recycled content, others worry about the impact of complicated or arduous policy on the recycling market, particularly when crafted by politicians who may not understand the industry well.
ISRI has not come down in favor of EPR for recyclable material unless, as a working group dedicated to the strategy described in February 2020, it is needed “to facilitate the proper recycling of difficult-to-recycle items, as a last resort.” Past examples have included vehicle mercury switches and electronics.
In February 2020, Danielle Waterfield, ISRI’s chief policy officer and assistant general counsel, testified in Augusta, Maine, against proposed packaging and paper products EPR legislation that ISRI identified as having a lack of understanding of recycling markets and current recycling infrastructure.
More recently, ISRI members EFS-plastics, of Listowel, Ontario, and Sims Municipal Recycling, of Brooklyn, N.Y., participated in a yearlong dialogue launched by the Flexible Packaging Association and the Product Stewardship Institute intended to reach stakeholder agreement on flexible packaging management under a framework of extended producer responsibility legislation.
The stakeholder group, which consisted of member companies of the two associations along with three recyclers, agreed on multiple recycling-related aspects of future EPR legislation. All agreed that an effective flexible packaging management system includes recycling of materials, maximizes collection convenience and effectiveness, includes effective processing, creates multiple and sustainable end markets, provides for comprehensive education and awareness, and incentivizes the use of recycled content, among other features.
More specifically, stakeholders agreed that program targets for recycling should take baseline data into account—for example, initial targets should be achievable based on the state’s recovery and recycling rates—and that recycling rates should be calculated using the amount of material processed and sent to recycling markets, rather than using the amount recovered. The group also agreed that any EPR program for packaging and paper products should direct the majority of funding toward operations, rather than administration.
Eadaoin Quinn, director of business and procurement at EFS-plastics, says the company has seen “the value that EPR can have for the commodities we recycle,” particularly plastic film. “In places with EPR, MRFs have a little more flexibility to sort materials based on ability to send it to an end market, rather than just on whether it is more profitable than sending it to landfill.” While Quinn is happy that the document makes mention of recycled-content mandates, she says the final document does not address the strategy as strongly as EFS-plastics would like.
One concern EFS-plastics has about the “Shared Elements of EPR” the stakeholder group established was that it doesn’t distinguish between mono-material polyethylene, which has a limited but existing recycling infrastructure, and multimaterial film packaging, which “is not recyclable at large scale today,” Quinn says. “It is very important to address the difference in these materials and not treat them as one commodity,” she adds.