Introducing Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) schemes for packaging in the United States could lead to a boost in recycling rates, according to a new report from As You Sow, a U.S.-based not-for-profit organization that aims to promote environmental responsibilities.
According to the report — called "Unfinished Business: The Case for Extended Producer Responsibility for Post-Consumer Packaging" — countries that have implemented EPR programs could set an example for the United States by presenting effective best practices and policies that have led to higher packaging recycling rates. Countries like Canada, Germany and Belgium could be valuable sources for working models and lessons that can be borrowed, the organization stated.
The United States generates unparalleled amounts of waste but has much lower recycling rates than other developed countries, especially those in Western Europe. The report found that average recycling rates for the United States stand at 48.3 percent, compared to 84 percent in Denmark and 73 percent in Germany.
As You Sow believes that efforts should be concentrated on recycling post-consumer paper, paperboard and packaging, which actually make up the biggest proportion of solid waste. These have historically scored among the poorest in terms of recycling rates.
Admittedly, the U.S. boasts relatively high recycling rates for paper recycling but it lags significantly in other materials, as only 22 percent of non-paper packaging and just 12 percent of plastic packaging is recycled. Beverage container recycling rates, for instance, have not only failed to improve but have gone down 20 percent over the last 20 years, the authors of the report noted. What is more, one in four Americans still have no access to curbside recycling. The organization noted that U.S. producers needed to come forward and take responsibility for packaging recycling.
As You Sow commented that the financial responsibility for collecting and recycling packaging should be placed not on taxpayers but on manufacturers, as EPR policies would incentivize them to contribute to a drop in the packaging they produce. Such programs would significantly increase recycling rates and would reduce the nation's carbon footprint, while reclaiming billions of dollars of materials that end up in landfills at present.
The report recommended that, in order to boost packaging recycling, the United States needed to update and expand its waste collection infrastructure to ensure that far more waste reaches recycling facilities. The organization suggested that closed loop systems which recycle valuable materials should be developed as well.
Another move that the report recommended was that businesses should be responsible for packaging depending on the amounts of waste they create, with higher recycling requirements for those that generate more waste. As You Sow stated that an effective mandated packaging EPR program in the United States needed to address all packaging types and should be financed and managed by producers. It called for tough targets with enforceable penalties, for a transparent cost allocation and for a ban on incineration of recyclable materials.