Two bills introduced by Rhode Island lawmakers suggest the possibility of the state putting end-of-life product management duties onto the shoulders of packaging producers.
House Bill 5508 (HB 5508), introduced on Feb. 12, calls on packaging producers to develop a plan to fund the recycling of at least 80 percent of packaging sold in the state by 2020. House Bill 5673 (HB 5673), meanwhile, calls on various stakeholders within the Ocean State to assess the management of “existing and future EPR and/or product stewardship programs.” That legislation was introduced on Feb. 26.
EPR, short for extended producer responsibility, is a concept in which product manufacturers finance and coordinate end-of-life concerns for the materials they sell into the market.
No U.S. state currently utilizes a comprehensive EPR system for printed paper and packaging (PPP), though EPR systems exist in numerous states for end-of-life management of products such as electronics, mercury-containing devices and paint.
British Columbia last year made waves by implementing an EPR program for PPP.
Rhode Island’s HB 5508 has been referred to the House Finance Committee, and HB 5673 has been sent to the House Environment and Natural Resources Committee.
A representative from the Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation (RIRRC), the quasi-public entity that operates the state’s only materials recovery facility, told Resource Recycling a wider conversation on producer-funded materials diversion efforts could be beneficial.
“If it’s not an issue in Rhode Island, I don’t want to make it one,” said Sarah Kite, RIRRC’s director of recycling services. “That said, paper and packaging is the 800-pound gorilla in the room and it needs a real serious review.”
According to Kite, Rhode Island municipalities at the moment remain more concerned with “hard to handle materials” than with packaging.
“What I’m hearing from them is, ‘Yes, let’s keep looking at it, let’s keep talking about it, let’s see if there’s any more low-hanging fruit, but help me with my tires,'” Kite said.
Under HB 5508, producers would be given 12 months to devise a collective or individual plan to collect and recycle post-consumer packaging used in the state. By 2020, producers would need to reach 80 percent recycling rates “for each type of packaging” and could not rely on waste-to-energy or incineration to get there. The bill is tied to efforts to reduce the amount of packaging that ends up in oceans.
HB 5673, meanwhile, would require numerous stakeholders – including the state’s Department of Environmental Management (DEM), RIRRC, municipalities and manufacturers – to report on and recommend changes to the management of the state’s current EPR programs.
The end result would be a “an EPR and product stewardship program management structure” that could be followed for current and future programs, the bill states.
On March 19, the American Forest & Paper Association sent a letter opposing HB 5673 to Arthur Handy, chair of the House Environment and Natural Resources Committee.
“Obligating the manufacturer to assume all costs associated with managing waste from its products or requiring the manufacturer to take back all of its products and packaging introduced into the commerce stream is detrimental,” the letter states. “The practicality is also questionable because the current paper recovery rate is already so high that the marginal costs of additional recovery through this system will be cost prohibitive.”
According to the most recent figures from the U.S. EPA, the U.S. recycling rate for paper and paperboard is 64.6 percent.
Rhode Island currently has EPR programs in place for e-scrap, paint, mercury thermostats and mercury car switches. In 2016, Rhode Island will start a mattress stewardship program.
DEM’s director, Janet Coit, could not be reached for a comment on the bills.