An Exploration of Producer Responsibility Recycling Policies Shows They Can Overcome Challenges

Washington D.C. — Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) is a policy approach in which a producer’s responsibility for a product is extended to the post-consumer stage of a product’s life cycle. EPR policies can facilitate the coordination of businesses to overcome critical recycling complications such as high collection costs, sorting complexity, inconsistent feedstocks, and unknown contamination leading to safety considerations.

Europe, Canada and U.S. states like Maine, Oregon, Colorado and California have adopted EPR policies and tend to have more effective and comprehensive recycling programs, according to a new study out of Iowa State University.

The new research supported by IAFNS identifies obstacles to more extensive recycling programs given that studies have found only about 8.66% of municipal solid waste plastic is recycled and a whopping 75.9% of plastic waste is sent to landfills in the U.S.

Global EPR and recycling laws were examined in the paper to compare and contrast initiatives to increase recycling and avoid plastic waste generation. EPR laws increase producers’ liability towards product generation, marketing and disposal by applying fees and taxes on products depending on product recyclability and volume generation. Countries with established plastic EPR regulations and landfill bans often possess higher recycling rates. The results of this research can facilitate development of local regulatory mandates to increase recycling rates.

The article reviews EPR policies in Europe, China and Canada and the US, including state programs. According to the authors, “By adapting current single stream waste collection systems into consumer sorted streams, adopting a national deposit-return scheme, and implementing EPR systems, new innovations can facilitate more sustainable end-of-life scenarios increasing high-quality recycled feedstocks for food contact packaging.”

According to Drs. Curtzwiler and Vorst, “having a reproducible and predictable source of post-consumer plastics can significantly improve the number of products containing recycled plastics with improved quality. Extended Producer Responsibility programs can facilitate the collection of highly sought after post-consumer plastics for similar applications to achieve this.”

According to lead author Khairun Tumu, “EPR holds significant potential in elevating the quality and quantity of recycled plastics while refining the purity of the waste stream by minimizing mixed waste entry. By doing so, it creates more fields for post-consumer feedstock applications, particularly in the food contact materials (FCMs) or food packaging realm, ensuring the production of safer, compliant recycled materials as regulatory compliance is necessary for this sector. On the other hand, EPR schemes grow consumer involvement in recycling by enhancing consumer-producer interaction through offering incentives or return systems. This educates consumers, encouraging a recycling-driven mindset, crucial for enhancing recycling rates, reducing landfill dependency, and advancing environmental sustainability.”

The researchers conclude that it is “clear from the analysis of existing recycling policies and their performance that significant change in domestic programs (waste collection) and product design (recyclability leveling, material complexity) is required to maximize recovery, increase recycling rates, and improve overall environmental, human and animal health.”

The study is available here.

The Institute for the Advancement of Food and Nutrition Sciences (IAFNS) is committed to leading positive change across the food and beverage ecosystem. This paper was supported in part by IAFNS’ Food Packaging Safety & Sustainability Committee. IAFNS is a 501(c)(3) science-focused nonprofit uniquely positioned to mobilize government, industry and academia to drive, fund and lead actionable research.

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