Market-based recycling could improve recycling rates at similar costs to current programs, while taking the financial burden for administration off cash-strapped local governments, according to a study by Recycling Reinvented.
The cost-benefit analysis examines the projected outcomes of a model extended producer responsibility (EPR) system for packaging and printed paper, using Minnesota as the model state. It’s based on an analysis of waste stream data from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, costs and efficiencies of existing local programs, the outcomes of similar programs, and the successes of best-practice programs throughout Minnesota.
The model system scales up best practices around the state, such as implementing single stream recycling statewide, expanding curbside recycling to nearly 90 percent of households, establishing a more robust away-from-home recycling program and optimizing processing infrastructure to leverage existing investments in state-of-the-art technology.
The data shows that such a model could increase the recycling rate of packaging and printed paper by 32 percent, while efficiencies and savings from a statewide standardization of material collection and technology keep the cost per ton of recycled material equivalent to today’s system.
Recycling Reinvented and its partners, which include Nestlé Waters North America and New Belgium Brewing Company, argue for a business-led EPR system because they say companies have a significant financial interest in having PPP recycled in greater quantity and quality but are hampered from impacting change due to the fractured, locally driven system that currently exists.
In May 2013, Connecticut passed the nation’s first-ever EPR bill for mattresses that supporters say will save local governments about $1.3 million and increase recycling opportunities for businesses. Rhode Island passed the second two monts later.
To date, EPR legislation has focused on products that are hazardous or have low recycling rates, such as batteries, mercury switches, fluorescent lamps, writes Laura M. Thompson, director of sustainable development and technical marketing at Sappi Fine Paper North America, in a September 2013 Environmental Leader column.
While there are efforts underway to enact EPR laws for packaging and printed materials in the US and Canada, it is arguable that we don’t need EPR for paper products, Thompson writes. The recovery rate for paper has exceeded 60 percent since 2009. And nearly 70 percent of US households have access to paper recycling facilities.