The amended bill no longer includes EPR goals, and instead calls for several assessments and analyses of recycling in the state. | Mihai Andritoiu/Shutterstock

Legislation that started as a proposal to bring extended producer responsibility for packaging to Maryland is now on the governor’s desk. But its current text mandates a study, not an actual EPR system.

The Maryland House amended SB 222 in late March, sending it back to the Senate for approval. On April 7, the Senate refused the House amendments and the two chambers appointed members to a conference committee to try to come to an agreement on April 8.

The state’s legislative session adjourned April 10, and the revised bill was sent to the governor that day. 

Assessing equity, costs of EPR and more

The version sent to the desk of Gov. Wes Moore, a Democrat, calls for a needs assessment to be completed by July 30, 2024. 

The assessment would be performed by an independent consultant and would include an analysis of current material streams and recycling streams by type and amount, an estimate of the cost of current recycling programs, an estimate of how much recyclable material is currently not being recycled and several other evaluations.

The report would also include recommendations for improving equity and equitable outcomes for populations currently underserved by the recycling system, an analysis of the costs and benefits of EPR, an analysis of the potential environmental impact of EPR and proposed best practices taken from successful EPR programs elsewhere in the world. 

All versions of the bill included an advisory council. The version sent to the governor cut out the majority of the guidelines regarding who would sit on the council and instead said the Department of the Environment would “provide staff.”

The latest version would set a deadline of Dec. 1, 2024, for the advisory council to report its findings and recommendations to the governor. It also calls for the Department of the Environment to approve a single producer responsibility organization (PRO) by Oct. 1, 2023. 

An EPR bill in Connecticut was also recently amended such that its implementation would depend on other states passing EPR bills.

Previous drafts

The old version of SB 222 included a needs assessment. However, it also called for achieving goals related to post-consumer resin (PCR) use, recyclability, recycling rates, reuse, packaging reduction, contamination reduction and greenhouse gas reduction within five years. I

t would have required PROs to file a plan beginning in 2026. 

The only hard target the original version set was a 25% packaging reduction goal. The rest were left to the Department of the Environment to set in rulemaking. It also included a producer responsibility plan advisory council.

Other versions of the bill would have allowed the PRO to create a beverage container deposit system. That language did not make it into the final version. 

In a February letter to the Senate, the Maryland Delaware Solid Waste Association (MDSWA), a chapter of the National Waste and Recycling Association, said any bottle bill action should be covered by a separate bill. 

“Such programs negatively impact the current collection and processing framework and should not be authorized within this legislation,” the letter stated. “If there is an interest in considering the establishment of such programs, it should only be done through separate legislation where the unique implications of such programs can be considered.” 

MDSWA said in the letter that it would support SB 222 only if it was amended “to achieve its objectives and not create unintended consequences that undermine the program.” 

Other suggestions from MDSWA were to have the program apply only to residential recycling, to more clearly define how funding will be invested in infrastructure, to include a binding requirement that the PRO follow advisory council recommendations and to mandate that the advisory council not include members of a PRO. 

According to the letter, the group “continues to believe that the most effective approach to addressing current recycling challenges is to focus on initiatives to increase demand for recyclable materials through a focus on market development,” including post-consumer minimum recycled content requirements. 

When EPR shifts responsibility for recycling to brands, it can leave out the needs of other recycling stakeholders if not framed properly, MDSWA argued in the letter. 

“The framework of an EPR program is critical to its success and, if not properly created and implemented, can result in upending existing recycling systems,” the letter stated. 

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