The US should adopt an extended producer responsibility policy, which would shift the responsibility for post-consumer waste to the companies that produce the packaging, according to a report from non-profit As You Sow, which also found $11 billion worth of recyclable materials are wasted annually.
Unfinished Business: The Case for Extended Producer Responsibility for Post-Consumer Packaging said that at least 47 countries require producers to bear some or all of the cost of end-of-life packaging management, which in the US has always been paid for by taxpayers.
An EPR policy in the US would increase recovery rates for all post-consumer packaging, encourage producers to re-design packaging to reduce materials, create the potential for a secondary materials markets, provide stable revenue sources through producer fees and reduce greenhouse gases, the non-profit said.
EPR laws and policies are already established in the US for several other product categories, including batteries, mobile phones, paint and electronics, the report said.
As You Sow recommends creating an EPR mandate in the US that covers all packaging types, is financed and managed by producers and phases out the use of non-recyclable packaging.
Packaging comprises more than 40 percent of the US solid waste stream, and most of these materials are recyclable. And yet, the US recycling recovery rates is estimated at 48.3 percent for packaging and 52.7 percent for paper and paperboard products, which lags far behind Denmark’s 84 percent, Belgium’s 78 percent and Germany’s 73 percent packaging recycling rates, the report said.
In the US only 12.1 percent of plastic packaging, the material expected to increasingly dominate US packaging, is recycled, said As You Sow. Meanwhile, beverage container recycling rates have dropped 20 percent over the past two decades and one quarter of the US population still doesn’t have access to curbside recycling. More than 40 billion aluminum cans, the most valuable beverage container material, are dumped each year in to US landfills.
The US recycling rate for beverage containers is about 35 percent. In the 10 states with deposit laws, recycling rates range from 66 percent to 96 percent, the report said.
Even without an EPR mandate, food and drink companies such as Starbucks are increasingly bearing the expense of recycling their own packaging as budget-restricted local municipalities look to offload their costly recycling programs, earlier reports have found. For example, Starbucks has developed a closed loop recycling system in its Chicago stores, Green Mountain College in Vermont buys products upcycled from its own waste paper, plastic, glass and metal, and Stonyfield Farm collected about 11 million used yogurt cups through Whole Foods locations last year.