The United States is facing a predicament with respect to how best to increase the recovery and recycling of packaging and printed paper. It’s widely recognized that the recovery system for these materials is underperforming and materials crucial to the sustainable functioning of our economy are being lost to landfill. A primary contributor to underperformance is insufficient capitalization, especially with regard to materials recovery infrastructure as well as insufficient investment in recycling promotion. However, local governments lack the capacity to improve this picture and there is much controversy in regards to what extent and how industry should play a role.
In this context, a spirited debate has arisen regarding the need for and potential cost-effectiveness of a mandated producer responsibility approach to the recovery and recycling of packaging and printed paper (Extended Producer Responsibility or EPR). As a stakeholder in this debate, Tetra Pak is supportive of this conversation and encourages further investigation and cost assessment into what legislative models and program designs could drive recovery performance in a cost-effective way. However, there are concerns that this discussion has devolved into a divisive debate pitting EPR against voluntary product stewardship approaches. With divergent opinions there is a danger of losing momentum while waiting for the dust to settle and losing sight of what really matters — namely, a significant improvement in recycling rates to feed the growing material appetite of the economy. The fact that the United States is in a state of flux with regard to policy direction is not an excuse for status quo. Rather, it’s an opportunity to pilot recovery programs and develop best practices in the US context which will lay a sound foundation for a future with or without EPR.
Coming Together: VPR+
In the absence of clear policy direction, Tetra Pak has chosen to actively engage in Voluntary Producer Responsibility (VPR) – a term that refers to programs for the end-of-life management of packaging established by packaging manufacturers and brand owners implemented without a legislative requirement. We have chosen to engage in VPR on both an individual basis as well as collaboratively through our work with the Carton Council and other packaging industry associations. Our work is propelled by a vision of society in which used packaging is perceived as an economic input as opposed to a waste and consumer uptake of recycling is strong and supported by convenient access to a cost-effective collection and processing network. To translate this vision into reality, our work is guided by principles of voluntary industry leadership, shared financial and operational responsibility along the entire value chain, transparency and fairness in the allocation of costs, industry leadership in recovery system design and implementation, and continuous improvement.