Discuss the EPR landscape in 2023. How did it differ from 2022?
2023 was the year EPR became the norm in waste management policy. The question is no longer whether it is the appropriate policy approach, but how the producer-run program should operate. These questions include how the eco-modulation will function, whether the law should include source reduction and recycled content requirements, etc.—2023 was also the year that people realized that Recycling Refunds/Deposit Return Systems (DRS), also known as “bottle bills”, are EPR with a deposit, excluding California’s government run bottle program. Now, the discussion is whether to do EPR for all packaging or keep DRS for bottles and cans separate. We prefer the latter. There is no EPR or DRS, DRS is EPR with a deposit to increase collection rates.
What states had the most EPR activity in 2023?
California, with legislators introducing EPR bills for electric vehicle batteries, fossil fuels, carpet, gas cylinders, textiles, and, at one-point, solar panels.
What were the biggest “victories” in 2023?
Vermont’s passage of Household Hazardous Waste (HHW) EPR, because HHW is so dangerous and costly to manage. HHW EPR was the top recommendation of CA’s Commission on Recycling Markets and Curbside Recycling, which I proudly chaired.
How has the waste and recycling industry continued to play a key role in working with packaging producers, legislators, etc. in moving legislation forward?
They are at the table and collaborating closely with us and others in NSAC’s SB 54 Implementation Working Group and beyond. Significant changes are coming, and they are actively trying to find their path in this new world—and they deserve credit for that because these changes are fundamental to their business model.
How important is the terminology used in bills presented?
Every word matters—the devil is always in the details. Unfortunately, there are those that conflate EPR with product stewardship (which often includes a visible fee paid for by the consumer), and the industry uses that to their advantage. There is discussion regarding EPR for all packaging, including bottles and cans, when DRS is in fact EPR with a deposit to ensure the materials come back.
How can industry professionals (especially haulers, recyclers, etc.) get involved in advocating for EPR or other similar programs?
Get engaged with other stakeholders. NSAC formed the SB54 Working Group to review the regulations and bring a broad group of stakeholders together to listen to each other outside of a combative regulatory environment. We have many haulers in that group and they have a key voice and important perspective that needs to be heard along with all the others.
What are some of the legislation/proposed bills that are coming down the pipeline in 2024? What does 2024 hold for the future of EPR?
Vermont led the way in 2023 with HHW EPR and I foresee that we will see much more attention paid to HHW since it is so toxic, dangerous, costly, and contaminates the waste system, which then endangers our workers. These products have no real market, but are very costly to manage and should be first to be considered for EPR. In general, we anticipate seeing more bills introduced targeting products that fit in the category of explosive or hazardous. We anticipate that states will follow the successes achieved in other states, including bills addressing paint, mattresses, bottles/cans via DRS, which would create disharmony. That is why we are working on national DRS to create the harmonization the industry claims they so desperately want but will not get if they cannot agree on a national bill. | WA
Heidi Sanborn is Executive Director of the National Stewardship Action Council. She can be reached at (916) 217-1109 or e-mail [email protected].