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At last month’s (virtual) plastics recycling conference, I took part in a panel that discussed public guidelines that could enable more plastics to be recycled.
After last year’s (non-virtual) conference, I wrote that plastics manufacturers were focused on how “the entire plastics value chain can move from the linear model of the past to a new circular model that will allow us to use and reuse more of our plastic resources . “This year I suggested that we will probably need good public order to get there.
Dan Leif from Resource Recycling Magazine asked Kate Bailey and myself from Eco-Cycle about the advantages and disadvantages of different directives circulating in different areas of legislation and regulation. What about Extended Manufacturer Responsibility (EPR)? Mandated Recycled Plastic? Packaging fees and more?
All good questions. So let’s dive in …
First, we have all recognized that the focus on plastics recycling has sharpened dramatically across the value chain in recent years. Interest in recycling more plastics and using them in branded products and packaging has reached an all-time high. Over the past three years, more than $ 5.5 billion in new domestic plastics recycling investments have been announced, mainly focused on advanced recycling technologies that will allow us to recycle more types of plastics. And America’s plastics makers have set a goal that all plastic packaging in the U.S. will be reused, recycled, or reclaimed by 2040. This ambitious vision also requires collective engagement and helpful government policies.
So … guidelines. What about product stewardship? The concept of requiring companies other than local waste and recycling organizations to pay costs for the collection and recycling of packaging has only recently gained momentum in the United States. Perhaps it is the growing awareness that the recycling infrastructure built is outdated and that local governments need help. and that inadequate access to collection infrastructure cannot provide the supplies necessary for success. So how can our nation pay fairly for the recycling infrastructure we need? The answer seems to lie in collaboration between businesses, municipalities and legislators. Which leads to the next question …
What about packaging fees, a form of product stewardship? The ACC, along with seventeen other organizations, has signed the Packaging and Printed Paper Fee proposed by The Recycling Partnership, which applies to all packaging materials and printed paper, including plastics, metals, glass and paper fibers. The fees would be collected by an industry responsibility organization from branded companies and used to fund capital investments in the collection and sorting infrastructure, as well as for public relations and consumer education. The goal: Increased supply of recyclable material to meet growing demand. We believe it is time to implement such a program.
What about standards for recycled plastics for new packaging? If done justly, there will be a place where public order will help encourage the increased use of recycled materials. Numerous states have proposed or passed laws mandating recycled plastics in various products and packaging. If these types of guidelines are properly addressed, it is another tool to drive demand for recycled plastics. And…
It is important that policymakers across the country recognize the critical role advanced recycling plays in achieving sustainability goals … and that all recycled plastics requirements for new packaging include advanced recycling products. Thanks to advanced recycling technologies, we can recycle more used plastics and convert them into new plastics and other products so that our country can use its resources more efficiently. And to end plastic waste.
It is the combination of mechanical and advanced recycling that enables us to meet our recycling goals. We encourage the US EPA and Congress to codify this point in policy. There were (and are) more political questions to be answered, such as how these recycled plastic materials should be taken into account. However, we are encouraged that the plastics value chain is strongly committed to a circular economy for plastics and is discussing new policy options that will lead to effective solutions for plastic waste disposal.