Colorado Gov. Jared Polis signed into law a bill that establishes a new, statewide recycling system that is operated and funded by the producers of packaging and printed paper to help spur a circular economy for recyclable materials. This landmark legislation passed by the state’s lawmakers is designed to reduce plastic waste and improve on the state’s recycling rate. The bill is a well-designed version of an innovative collection policy known as Extended Producer Responsibility, which has helped increase recycling rates in Europe and Canada. “Colorado is committed to evaluating common-sense solutions and cutting-edge technology to increase and improve recycling in our state. This bipartisan new law is an important step, will look at new ways to potentially remove the costs of recycling from localities and taxpayers, and save Coloradans money,” Gov. Polis said.
Colorado is the first state in the nation to develop an EPR system that makes producers responsible for financing a statewide recycling program to cover capital, operating, and promotion and education costs to better collect, process and market recyclable materials. Environmental groups and several companies that use recyclable packaging supported passage of the bill. World Wildlife Fund (WWF) backed the Colorado measure, which is the first to align behind the principles for a successful national collection system that WWF and the beverage industry developed jointly to improve recycling rates nationwide. These principles call for a system that:
- Generates strong environmental outcomes in an efficient, transparent, and accountable manner;
- Provides convenient service to consumers;
- Creates a financially sustainable model that producers fully fund and manage; and
- Provides producers access to their materials
This model will provide recycling program funding, standards and promotion for millions of Coloradans who do not currently have recycling available at their homes or away from home. The system will be run by a producer-run nonprofit, known as a Producer Responsibility Organization (PRO), supported by an advisory board and overseen by a state agency. The PRO will collect and manage producer funds, with all revenue dedicated to the operation and oversight of the program. The aim is to significantly increase the collection and sale of recyclables, including bottles and cans – providing producers access to purchase recycled materials so they can be remade into new products.
“Our 100% recyclable bottles and cans are made to be remade, and one of our industry’s highest priorities is getting them back. Colorado’s legislation is a promising model for creating a circular economy for recyclables, and we applaud Gov. Polis for signing this legislation into law,” said Katherine Lugar, president & CEO of American Beverage.
“By matching effective waste management practices with accountability, Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) is an essential tool to address plastic pollution,” said Alejandro Pérez, senior vice president, policy and government affairs, World Wildlife Fund. “We have a lot of work to do to achieve a waste-free future, but we are one step further because of Colorado’s actions. The state is setting an example of how industry, environmentalists and policymakers can join forces to transform the way we use, reuse and recycle materials.”
The bill is based on principles for an effective and efficient producer responsibility system developed jointly by America’s leading beverage companies and the World Wildlife Fund, and it reflects best practices from programs in which beverage companies participate around the world. Colorado has a statewide recycling rate of 15 percent, less than half the national average, and nearly 6 million tons of recyclable material are landfilled every year rather than remade as intended. Those landfilled commodities have a market value of about $100 million.
Colorado has significant potential for environmental, economic, and social benefits from increased recycling that comes with the job growth and economic development from collecting, processing and utilizing recycled materials in new products. The measure will lead to savings for local governments and taxpayers, reduced greenhouse gas emissions, landfilling and dependence on fossil fuels.
Beverage companies have been working with the environmental community and legislators in Colorado since 2019 to explore policy options that would improve recycling rates and advocated for passage of this measure. A producer-run system is the linchpin to the high performing collection and recycling system under EPR. EPR shifts responsibility for recycling materials from local governments to the producers who put the products on the market. Government authorizes the design and goals for the system; producers who make recyclable materials (packaging and printed paper products) will run it and fund it. Evidence from other EPR programs shows consumers do not see a change in prices at stores. The cost of EPR fees is built into producers’ wholesale prices and is spread across the supply chain.
Currently, recycling rates vary from state to state and eventually plateau. In many cases, funding generated by the recycling systems in states is siphoned out for other government needs, leaving little left to modernize the system. The key to the EPR measure advanced by the Colorado legislature is that gives the producers of packaging and paper a financial stake in ensuring a collection system is effective, efficient and convenient to consumers. This measure builds upon the efforts of America’s leading beverage companies to improve the collection and remaking of its plastic bottles to decrease the industry’s plastic footprint.
The beverage industry support for EPR builds on its efforts to reduce its plastic footprint through its Every Bottle Back initiative. The initiative is leveraging the equivalent of nearly $500 million to decrease the industry’s use of new plastic by increasing the collection and remaking of our plastic bottles. Every Bottle Back has committed funding to 22 projects nationwide to improve recycling systems, and more projects are in the pipeline. Projects funded to date are estimated to yield nearly 700 million more pounds of recycled PET over 10 years.