U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and U.S. Representative Alan Lowenthal (D-CA) reintroduced the Break Free from Plastic Pollution Act (BFFPPA), a landmark bill designed to reduce plastic and packaging waste and transform the recycling system. The bill would implement a national Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) program for packaging and paper products, a nationwide container deposit requirement, carryout bag fee, bans on some single-use plastic products, standardized product labeling for recycling and disposal, a temporary pause on the construction of new plastics facilities and incinerators, and regulations on exports of recyclable materials.
“Only about 50% of packaging in the U.S. is recycled – well below many other countries, and that rate has been stagnant for nearly two decades,” said Scott Cassel, Founder & CEO of PSI. “This bill will increase recycling while saving local governments millions of dollars to manage an increasingly complex waste stream.”
With EPR as its centerpiece, the BFFPPA shifts the financial burden for recycling from local governments and taxpayers to brand owners and packaging producers – those who put packaging and paper products on the market. The bill’s EPR component was directly informed by PSI’s policy model, part of a larger packaging stewardship tool kit for governments, which includes a seminal 2020 report, EPR for Packaging and Paper Products: Policies, Practices, and Performance.
Across the country, communities are spending tens of millions of dollars to maintain their recycling programs. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated these budgetary impacts. In 2020, many municipal recycling programs shut down or increased costs for taxpayers and ratepayers. Without EPR for packaging and paper products, local programs will continue to face unstable markets and increasingly tight budgets, even as household waste and recycling increase. Eleven states have introduced, or are currently developing, packaging EPR bills this legislative session to address this budget crisis. Most bills were informed by PSI’s EPR model.
“Niagara County municipalities have faced dramatic recycling cost increases in the past three years, and now some communities are paying higher rates for recycling than disposal,” said Dawn Timm, Niagara County Environmental & Solid Waste Director in New York. “EPR addresses unreasonable demands on municipalities to manage and pay for materials that they had no input on creating in the first place.”
For producers, the bill provides financial incentives to redesign their products and packaging materials to reduce waste, use recycled content, and minimize their impacts on the environment. It also directs them to invest in infrastructure to modernize our fractured recycling system. By fostering healthy markets for recycled materials, EPR for packaging and paper products will also help producers reach their publicly stated goals for using post-consumer content.
“EPR is not only a more sustainable solution, it’s more equitable because it puts the cost on those who produce and consume packaging,” said Scott Klag, Senior Planner for Oregon’s Metro, a regional government that includes Portland, and Vice President of PSI’s Board.
The BFFPPA takes bold strides toward a more equitable and just waste system. Under the current system, low-income communities and communities of color are disproportionately affected by the health and environmental impacts of increased landfilling, incineration, and litter. The bill will ensure that plastic waste from the United States is sent only to responsible recycling markets that minimize harm to the environment and risks to public health and worker safety. The bill will also place a temporary pause on the permitting of new plastics facilities and incinerators until the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and other federal agencies can study the impacts these facilities have on surrounding communities and ensure adequate regulations are in place to prevent harm.
The Break Free from Plastic Pollution Act seeks to build a stronger, more resilient, and more equitable recycling system by creating a national EPR program to drive investment in recycling infrastructure and hold producers accountable for the materials they use. By incentivizing upstream waste reduction and the design of lower-impact products and packaging, this bill will propel the U.S. into a circular economy where materials are sustainably used and reused, repeatedly.