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EPR Is a Solution in Search of a Problem

By Michael D’Angelo

July 7, 2023

Extended producer responsibility (EPR) is gaining momentum in several states. AICC, your Association, is tracking developments and keeping members informed. There is an inevitability to EPR—even though AICC members manufacture the most sustainable packaging media on the planet.

For those who don’t know, EPR is a financial mechanism to support the creation of recycling services and performance to ensure the transition to a circular economy. Financial means taxes, and taxes mean legislation. The legislation places an obligation on producers of covered products—including packaging, containers, food service products, and paper, regardless of recyclability, compostability, and type of material—to design, maintain, and finance programs to collect and process product waste. In other words, replace the state and local entities that currently may be providing these services.

Once these measures are legislated, producers would work together through a producer responsibility organization to take responsibility for the package at the end of its life in such a way as to reduce its environmental impact and maximize the amount of material returned to the circular economy. Producers will invest in U.S. recycling and composting infrastructure and waste management and cleanup, as well as promote awareness of these programs for covered products.

Eunomia recently published The 50 States of Recycling. This study assesses and ranks each state on its container and packaging recycling rates.

Those with a financial background are familiar with black ledger, green ledger accounting. The data presented by Eunomia has a similar ring to it because it produces state-by-state recycling statistics for common containers and packaging materials in two ways: without “cardboard/boxboard” and with. Without paper-based packaging included, West Virginia is the lowest-ranked recycling state in the U.S. at 2%. With paper, the recycling rate jumps to 31%, and West Virginia goes from ranked 50th to 40th. AICC’s home state of Virginia ranks 26th without paper at 26% and moves up to 20th at 42% with paper. Inclusion of paper similarly moves the numbers for each state, except for Maine, which is No. 1 in either case at 72% without and 74% with (Go Maine!).

What this means is that EPR legislation, which is obviously required to solve a plastics problem, is rolling up good performers such as paper and aluminum and will force producers utilizing highly recyclable packaging media to subsidize those that do not.

We’re proud that AICC members offer their customers solutions using the most sustainable packaging media known—paper. AICC will continue to educate members on how to differentiate themselves with this advantage. And keep you up to date on EPR legislative developments.

The American Forest & Paper Association has been on the point of EPR legislation and keeping AICC and other paper-based alphabet soup organizations informed.

We agree with them—when it comes to paper-based packaging, EPR is a solution in search of a problem.

Michael D’Angelo
AICC President