← Back to Info Hub

By The Numbers Webinar: Transforming U.S. Recycling with EPR

The Recycling Partnership’s By The Numbers webinar series kicked off 2023 with a special webinar in partnership with Resource Recycling’s Policy Now.

By The Numbers Webinar: Transforming U.S. Recycling with EPR, designed for municipal and industry stakeholders as well as policymakers, took a deep dive into extended producer responsibility or EPR. The webinar was held on March 21 and featured subject-matter experts from across the recycling value chain: 

  • Moderator Dan Leif, Editorial Director of Resource Recycling 
  • Dylan de Thomas, VP of Public Policy & Government Affairs, The Recycling Partnership 
  • McKenna Morrigan, Strategic Advisor, Seattle Public Utilities
  • Lynn Hoffman, Co-President, Eureka Recycling 
  • Stefani Millie Grant, Head of External Affairs, Unilever 
  • Kirsten Witt, Policy Director, The Coca-Cola Company 

Topics focused on The Recycling Partnership’s “Increasing Recycling Rates with EPR Policy” report, resources for policymakers, a breakdown of myths and facts, value chain perspectives and more.

Download the Presentation

Key Takeaways

Here are a few takeaways around what we heard – smart, well-designed EPR policy has the potential to:   

  • Bring producers to the table as partners in recycling system change   
  • Improve upon existing community infrastructure   
  • Rebuild public trust in recycling and make the process of recycling more transparent    
  • Provide robust, sustainable funding for recycling programs
  • Help producers make better packaging choices through eco-modulated fee structures 
  • Enable a Producer Responsibility Organization (PRO) to effectively and efficiently achieve statutory goals with robust oversight and accountability from the state environmental agency
  • Support robust local end markets by unlocking supply of materials and create stability for the market 
  • Create statewide standardized accepted recycling collection lists and definitions to reduce confusion on what to recycle   

Want to learn how to push for smart policy with stakeholders across the value chain to move the needle on policy and progress? Here are some tips from this webinar:

  • Come together to develop solutions as well as gather data on current programs and burden of packaging to communicate the impact of EPR on government, saving costs for residents and making a positive impact on the environment
  • Develop policy principles on how to deliver the environmental promise of EPR most effectively and keep up to date with the current policy landscape including sharing feedback and testimony in the legislatures, and liaising with various groups and associations
  • Foster cross-sector engagement and information sharing in order to pass effective policies to deliver the greatest amount of change across the country
  • Keep in mind the problems we are seeking to solve and find the overlap to design a system that supports our communities and planet 

Follow-up Answers from Additional Webinar Questions

General Questions Around EPR 

Answered by The Recycling Partnership

Q: To reach scale, what was the average length of time taken to implement successful and sustainable EPR?   

A: The timeframe has differed in each EPR program because of relative maturity of the recycling system in a given jurisdiction and implementation timelines, though they typically take three-five years to be launched. Program plans typically run five years in length which is when we would expect to see the initial results of EPR here in the U.S.   

Q: Do you see minimum recycled content requirements becoming part of future EPR bills?   

A: It is important for recycled content mandates to be paired with supply side support and most of the EPR bills being passed or considered have some component of recycled content incentives included and we’d expect that trend to continue.   

Q: All EPR policies (to the best of my knowledge) address and focus on the recycling rate of different materials rather than the carbon footprint. How can we align EPR policies so that we increase recycling rates and reduce greenhouse gas emissions in order to achieve zero carbon targets and cicrularity?   

A: Well-designed EPR programs unlock multiple environmental and economic benefits. EPR policies fund recycling infrastructure, education, and operations, which in turn support better access and participation in recycling, plus they encourage higher recycled content in materials. Our research shows that the generated benefits of investment, equitable access, and higher recycling rates include retaining the economic value of recycled material in the economy and reductions in climate damaging emissions.  

Q: Please can you share the specifics of what the financial system looks like for EPR, where does the funding come from to pay for recycling? The public expects to recycle for free so how is the operation funded?   

A: In well-designed and -implemented EPR, consumers should simply see an improved, consistent recycling system that they don’t pay for either through fees (as recycling is funded in some parts of the country) or through taxes. The PRO finances recycling services using funds paid by producers via fees established and approved by the state environmental agency. Our research shows that consumer costs do not meaningfully increase at grocery checkouts and that fees for producers are absorbed alongside other compliance costs.   

Q: The current landscape is already confusing enough. How do we standardize the system, and avoid ending up with 50 different EPR structures?   

A: Our current approach results in thousands of different programs, because recycling rules vary from municipality to municipality. Statewide EPR laws will provide much-needed consistency across jurisdictions within a state. Our hope is that we continue to see the four states (California, Colorado, Maine, Oregon) that have passed EPR laws work with each other through the rulemaking and implementation processes to help support a better harmonized system, and authors of bills currently being developed or considered will look to common definitions and bill language. But ultimately, a national solution at the federal level down the road would be the hope.   

Q: Where can we view model legislation for EPR?   

A: To learn more about how to advocate and educate around EPR, you can view The Recycling Partnership’s EPR Resource Toolkit for customizable resources and guidance on how to craft well-designed EPR policy. Visit:  https://recyclingpartnership.org/policy-toolkit/  

Q: EPR is basically a producer discipline, how do we encourage the consumer to have a similar discipline to recycle “correctly” 

A: One of the benefits that EPR can deliver is a consistent recycling system from accepted materials lists, but also consistent communication and education about recycling – so residents know clearly what to recycle (and what not to recycle) at home, work, and at play. The Recycling Partnership knows how important it is to support and empower people, so recycling is easy. Our Center for Sustainable Behavior & Impact is constantly working to drive measurable improvement in recycling behaviors and boost confidence in U.S. recycling through data-driven research and community pilots.

Panelist-Specific Questions

Q: Unilever – How did you get company buy-in from leadership for EPR?

Answered by Stefani Millie Grant, Head of External Affairs, Unilever

A: For Unilever, we fully accept that the plastic we produce is our responsibility.  Because of this, we have pledged to halve our use of virgin plastic by 2025 – partly by eliminating over 100,000 tons of plastic from our packaging – and design all our packaging to be fully reusable, recyclable or compostable. We have also committed to help collect and process more plastic packaging than we sell. 

Q: What are some of the arguments against EPR? How do you address them?

Answered by McKenna Morrigan, Strategic Advisor, Seattle Public Utilities

Argument 1: Our recycling system isn’t broken. It’s just that we need market demand for recycled materials.

Response: We have seen that strong markets alone will not solve our recycling challenges. The latest data on plastic recycling in US shows that, even though market prices for recycled plastics have reached historic highs in recent years, the amount of plastics recovered for recycling in the U.S. has actually declined. The evidence from the past few years has made clear that our recycling system challenges are not solely about weak markets or lack of demand.   

Increasingly, demand is there, but the supply is not. Without the sustained funding for expanded recycling programs that would be provided under EPR, there won’t enough of the recycled materials available to meet recycled content requirements.   

Argument 2: We can’t trust producers to run recycling programs. Control should stay in the hands of local governments and service providers and we should simply tax producers to fund local recycling programs. 

Local governments alone cannot keep up with growing volume and complexity of packaging: Thirty thousand (30,000) new consumer packaged goods are launched each year, many with new packaging designs that aren’t compatible with our recycling programs. (From KAB National Litter Study 2020)  

We need producers to be at the table and playing an active role in solving the problems we face — designing packaging to work better in our current recycling system, and investing in system improvements and innovations to achieve better outcomes and greater efficiencies.    

Argument 3: The problem is really about deceptive and misleading labels. We just need “truth in labeling” laws.  

Misleading labels and false claims are a long-standing source of frustration for recycling programs. But it has historically been difficult for states to address labeling issues through policy, in large part because of the fragmented nature of the current recycling programs — as there is no one definition of what is considered “recyclable” within a state. And that makes it challenging to establish a clear policy around it.   

Implementing a producer responsibility program that establishes a standard list of materials considered “recyclable” statewide makes it much more feasible to prohibit deceptive and misleading labels, and to enlist producers in making changes to both packaging designs and recycling systems to work together for better outcomes. 

Deeper Dives and Resources