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A new national nonprofit hopes to increase the recycling rates of waste packaging by bringing an extended producer responsibility (EPR) model to the U.S.Led by a various group of board members from the public and private sectors, including Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., and president & CEO of Nestle Waters North America Kim Jeffery, Recycling Reinvented aims to create an efficient recycling model for the U.S.

Heather Caliendo

June 20, 2012

4 Min Read
New nonprofit seeks to bring EPR model to the U.S.

A new national nonprofit hopes to increase the recycling rates of waste packaging by bringing an extended producer responsibility (EPR) model to the U.S.

Led by a various group of board members from the public and private sectors, including Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., and president & CEO of Nestle Waters North America Kim Jeffery, Recycling Reinvented aims to create an efficient recycling model for the U.S.

Paul Gardner, executive director of Recycling Reinvented, told PlasticsToday the organization is promoting EPR as a better way to finance and organize recycling.

"There are other groups out there who focus on product stewardship or EPR generally, but without the focus on packaging," he said. "Our plans are to advocate for state policy changes rather than a federal solution because no one believes a national plan is possible."

waterbottles-e1268838172304.jpgNearly one-third of all municipal solid waste in the U.S. is packaging, which puts it at the forefront of the sustainability agenda for both the public and private sectors, according to the Product Stewardship Institute (PSI), a nonprofit organization based in Boston, MA.  

Recycling Reinvented believes an EPR model can increase recycling rates, reduce government spending and use private sector efficiencies to reduce the overall cost of recycling. EPR policies hold producers responsible for the entire lifecycle of products and the packaging they produce. Many of these laws are in place in Europe, and in parts of Canada.

Some form of EPR is already working in the U.S., with more than 70 laws passed in the last 10 years.

Maine enacted the country's first EPR laws on electronics, thermostats, fluorescent lamps, and comprehensive framework. It also passed laws on automobile switches and batteries.

Retiring Maine State Representative Melissa Innes joined Recycling Reinvented as Outreach Director. She said our current recycling system is not keeping up to pace with supply and demand. With EPR, many nations have achieved recycling rates that double those in the United States, she said.

"The system we have now is run by governments, whether local or state, and the model that Recycling Reinvented is supporting would bring business back into the equation, to run recycling more like a business, with more efficiencies found and more products available for next best use," Innes said. "I view EPR as a great tool to bring new thinking and funding into the US recycling system, where a PRO (Producer Responsibility Organization) develops the most efficient system to gain the highest recycling rates and sets fair fees for the industry members."

A recent recycling study shows that if the U.S. could increase its recycling rate to 75% by 2030, it would create 1.5 million additional jobs.

EPR systems do come with a cost, which is paid for by the producers of the products. Since EPR systems push the cost to brand owners, it can increase the chance that the price of their products will go up.

"Businesses usually pass on additional costs to customers, so that is likely," Gardner said. "However, we believe that the efficiencies that the private sector would bring to recycling, along with the removal of fees and taxes for recycling that households pay now, will result in the same or higher purchasing power than today."

He said the organization is working on the data modeling to show that.

Innes said EPR programs allow more control by industry, the ones that designed the product, and one goal of EPR is to stimulate better design to build for more recycling in the loop, not just designing a product for disposal.

"If a product is designed to be difficult or costly to recycle, that should be reflected in the price of the product, so that a product that is easier to recycle would potentially cost less for the consumer," she said. "EPR has the potential for full life cycle costs to be part of the consumer purchasing decision, in the true cost of that product."

Recycling Reinvented has already brought together more than 30 organizations to talk about the best attributes of an EPR for packaging program that could work in the U.S. Through continued conversation, Innes aims to garner support from all stakeholders, with a specific focus on industries.

Gardner said with 20 year of experience in Europe and Canada to draw upon, which include successes and failures, he believes the country can develop a uniquely American EPR system that lets government set a goal and maintain a level playing field, and lets the private sector figure out how to meet it.

To succeed, he said they need to make the business case for EPR that can show that EPR would be cheaper for consumers overall and would be more efficient than what the process now.

"EPR requires people to think outside of their silos," he said. "If you look at EPR just within your silo in your business, you would just see cost. But there are benefits that would result for you elsewhere. As people see how all the parts fit together in EPR, they get it."

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