What’s our goal? To increase recycling rates and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
How do we achieve this goal? Extended producer responsibility (EPR) legislation.


What Is EPR?

EPR is a policy approach with far-reaching effects, including incentives to make packages sold on store shelves more recyclable, informing citizens about what and how to recycle, and helping to provide critically needed feedstock to create new products out of recycled content for all materials.

Under EPR policy, this can all happen while providing a sustainable funding source to improve our recycling systems.

EPR requires the manufacturers, producers, or brands of goods, paper, or packaging to take responsibility for the end of life of the packaging of those goods. This policy can apply to various products, such as waste electronics, paint, mattresses, carpets, mercury-containing thermostats, printed paper, or packaging waste.

EPR puts the responsibility on these brand owners to pay for and manage the recycling system in a given country, state, or province that has passed the EPR policy. End-of-life management for these products becomes a shared burden for all brands and does not increase consumer costs.

Essentially, EPR shifts the financial responsibility of managing a material throughout its entire lifecycle, from the design phase to production to disposal, to the brands that produce the material.


How Does EPR Work?

EPR works in different ways, but simply put, the producers or brands of products pay very small fees on the covered packaging and printed paper for newspapers, magazines, office paper, or direct mail. A producer responsibility organization, a nonprofit organization created by the brands to deliver on specific recycling goals laid out in the EPR law, collects these fees.

This nonprofit organization then devises a plan to achieve a particular recycling rate, and an advisory council with stakeholders from the value chain reviews this plan. This advisory council usually comprises:

  • Waste haulers
  • Environmental groups
  • Sortation facilities or materials recovery facilities (MRFS)
  • Consumer advocates
  • Manufacturers of goods from recycled products

The council will make recommendations or request edits to the nonprofit organization’s recycling plan. Then, a state agency, such as a department of environmental quality or EPA, approves that sustainability plan.

Once the plan goes into effect, the producer will contract with the hauler or service provider delivering recycling services to a given community, and they will reimburse or direct the activities of that hauler. They will also help pay for the sortation of the material. The MRFs or sortation facilities take the materials, sort them out, and send to responsible end markets. The producer may also help pay for system improvements to help improve those recycling systems. The cost for this range of products and goods is then divided among each piece of packaging sold within a particular state.

Strengthen education and advocacy around innovative, well-designed EPR initiatives with The Recycling Partnership’s free toolkit of the latest research and customizable resources for your state.

What is the Main Function of the EPR System?

The primary function of an EPR system is to improve and deliver the circular economy for a given state. It should enhance and provide recycling for all residents in a consistent and equitable way.

Take Portland, Oregon, for example, which has a robust recycling system and is a relatively rural state. The majority of the city has one recycling system, but those that live on the coast and those that live in the Inlands have a separate recycling system. What EPR can do is allow everyone in the state of Oregon, no matter where they live, to recycle the same items and have the producers pay the difference of what it costs to make these system improvements.

Under EPR policy, consumers can have confidence that if they’re buying something that says it’s recyclable, they’ll be able to recycle that product no matter where they travel to in a given state.


The Difference Between EPR and Product Stewardship

Product stewardship is a term that many people confuse with EPR. Product stewardship is a broader concept that EPR is a part of. The idea behind product stewardship programs is that the producers are stewarding the products they’re putting out in the marketplace.

Many people also need clarification on bottle bills, deposit return systems, or recycling refunds. EPR may look like a buyback, take-back, reuse, or recycling program like bottle bills. There are 10 states around the country and many countries around the globe that have bottle bills in place. These bills require that when you buy a beverage container, you pay a small deposit on that beverage container, like a nickel or a dime, but you can return the beverage container and get your money back. Bottle bills are an example of EPR, but it’s solely for beverage containers, so it’s a much narrower EPR policy.

Types of Waste Addressed by EPR Policy

There are hundreds of different EPR laws in the U.S. and across the globe that pertain to different types of waste streams. Some kinds of waste that EPR policy addresses include:

  • Printing paper and packaging material
  • Electronic equipment and other e-waste
  • Mercury containing thermostats
  • Carpets
  • Paint
  • Mattresses
  • Hard-to-recycle or dispose of materials
  • Household hazardous waste
  • Batteries and rechargeable batteries

How EPR Impacts Taxpayers, Communities, MRFs, and More

Ultimately, as states implement EPR legislation, all producers and brands must join the responsibility organization. Their job will be to report on what packaging they sold or what percentage of their market is in the states impacted by these policies. They will put that information into a web portal, see their fee, and then they will have to pay their bill.

Most will remain the same for residents. They’ll be able to recycle more in many states than they can currently. They’ll be able to recycle better and more simply.

Haulers will be able to have consistent rules of what type of service they’re delivering and what they’re recycling. So they will have less confusion. The MRFs, sortation facilities, or materials recovery facilities around those states will also have consistent recycling. Because of these laws, they will also have better anti contamination recycling and programming. There will be better and more accessible education and outreach for residents. We will recycle better and recycle right. You’ll see more recycling in public space areas.

EPR provides consistency to the recycling program for all stakeholders throughout the value chain. Whether it’s a MRF, hauler, brand, community, resident, or producer, they will have a better, more robust, and consistent recycling system.

While it is unproven conjecture to suggest that EPR fees could be passed on to consumers, a broader view shows that not fixing recycling through policy has far more significant implications for family budgets.


Learn more in the report below from Columbia University.

Why Do We Need EPR?

We need EPR because our recycling system is stagnating. There was a massive explosion of curbside recycling for residential communities nationwide in the 90s, but this plateaued for many states. Today, roughly 40% of the country doesn’t have the same level of access to recycling that they do to trash. The only way we can transform the recycling system to give the same recycling system to all residents in a given state is through policy, and EPR for packaging is a perfect example of an approach that works. It’s proven to be effective at delivering extremely high recycling rates.

Pros of EPR Policy

EPR policy leads to increased recycling and collection rates, reduction in overall waste and landfill management costs, reduction of public spending on waste disposal and waste management, and design for environmental impact innovations, such as increasing product compostability, reusability, and life cycle.

EPR has enormous potential benefits for any state in the U.S., even states with nominally high recycling rates. According to a recent study from The Recycling Partnership, which examined six U.S. states and seven international jurisdictions, EPR policy increases and sustains high recycling rates. That, in turn, pushes more recyclable materials out of disposal and back into economic use, where the energy efficiency of recycled materials drives down greenhouse gas generation while spurring economic growth.

Perceived Cons of EPR Policy

Many people say that EPR increases costs for consumers and that those packaging fees will cause the price of packaged goods to increase. But there has been extensive research on this idea, and no credible evidence shows consumer costs will rise due to the passing of EPR policy. Instead, EPR has what’s called a compliance fee, which does not impact the price of goods but is integrated into the cost of doing business by these large producers.

Another perceived con of EPR is that it will cause brands to take over a recycling system. Some local waste and recycling haulers have said that EPR will give residents a worse recycling system, which is also false. Many EPR programs delivered the same level of service or improved service as their communities before the instituted the EPR law. What consumers are already paying for recycling will also either go down or go away, along with the potential for an improved recycling system

Why is EPR Policy More Widespread in Other Countries?

It’s harder to pass EPR laws in the U.S. than in other countries because of our 50-state system, which is decentralized in many ways. States, local governments, and municipalities all hold a lot of individual power, and each state has its political challenges. But luckily, the time for EPR law has come, and it’s been a long-time coming. It takes time for stakeholders to understand the positive impacts that these smart, well-designed EPR policies can have.

That same analysis from The Recycling Partnership that explored seven EPR for packaging programs worldwide found impactful results across the board. According to the research, in Belgium, top recycling rates in 2020 reached 95% despite a global recycling downturn, and the policy drove recycling rates to over 75% in British Columbia, Canada; Belgium; Spain; South Korea; and the Netherlands. Recycling rates were nearly ten percentage points higher in all seven programs studied than in any U.S. state examined.

This analysis strongly indicates all U.S. states could expect an increase in their recycling rates for printed paper and packaging (PPP) with the introduction of EPR law. We can apply these learnings from abroad locally.

We hope the demonstrated impact of EPR for PPP on recycling rates depicted in this analysis will encourage stakeholders to continue supporting new EPR for PPP legislation.


Are you looking to implement EPR policy in your region or state?

Connect with our team for support and resources.

How Do We Get EPR Policy Passed More Widely in the U.S.?

The more successful states that are passing EPR laws are the ones that have been highly intentional about how they design these laws, bringing in stakeholders from across the value chain to understand their concerns and considerations and help craft bills that are right for their state. They’re still able to have pieces of those laws that are conversant with the others that have passed.

We hope to see more people at the negotiating table and more brands publicly supporting these laws. Once we hit a tipping point, we could see federal activity, which could help EPR policy grow around the country to help deliver intelligent, well-designed practices.