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In Our Opinion: Coalitions: The EPR Differentiator

A strong coalition of stakeholders is vital for successful EPR legislation. | OlegKovalevichh/Shutterstock

Policy Now readers are, no doubt, familiar with the growing wave of interest in extended producer responsibility (EPR). A decade ago, it was remarkable to see even one or two states introduce EPR policies in the same legislative cycle. Already this year, some form of EPR for packaging and paper products was introduced in nine states. At the same time, EPR legislation is being considered and enacted in some more established product categories, like electronics, paint and mattresses, as well as in some new areas like batteries (EV and small and medium format), household hazardous waste, vehicle tires, pharmaceuticals, solar panels, wind turbines and marine flares.

Given all the activity, it’s a good time for some scrutiny. What factors are most important to getting EPR legislation introduced? What can be learned from those states where EPR was enacted, and which are now working to implement programs and deliver on the promise of the EPR model? What can be learned from states where EPR continues to struggle to gain traction?

One essential factor for passing EPR legislation is a strong coalition that includes a broad range of perspectives from impacted stakeholders.

At its core, EPR legislation mandates that producers take some financial and operational responsibility for the recycling or disposal of their products. In practice, this means major shifts in the status quo in which consumers and the government bear the full cost of the waste and recycling system. With the introduction of EPR, stakeholders at every stage of a product’s life cycle – from manufacturers and brands to retailers, consumers, public agencies, haulers, processors, landfills and the end markets that ultimately sell commodities back to manufacturers – may see threats and opportunities. The result is an intricate landscape of political and economic interests with many potential traps and pitfalls. However, these gains and losses on the individual stakeholder level can be knitted together to establish an overall EPR system that benefits the economy and the environment.

Bringing all these players to the table at the earliest stages of policy development provides multiple benefits. Coalitions make better policy. When the varied perspectives of multiple stakeholders in a particular material stream are involved from the outset, the resulting policy can address concerns early, and be tailored to fit the unique local policy history and recycling economy. Politically, this serves to turn potential opponents into political supporters, or at least to quell fears and reduce opposition. And from a strategic standpoint, early vetting can help unearth what could become last-minute bombshells that derail years of negotiations.

The quintessential example of stakeholder-negotiated EPR legislation led to the enactment of 11 paint EPR laws in the U.S. The model legislation that is the base of these laws was developed through a process mediated by the Product Stewardship Institute. This process engaged the paint industry trade group American Coatings Association (ACA), as well as state and local government representatives. What resulted from the group’s hard work and dedication was a model that ACA and government officials jointly advocated for – a powerful package. Other sectors would be wise to follow the paint example, as it allowed the industry to have a strong voice in the framing of the legislative approach to managing their products. It is a valuable contrast to other EPR policy areas (e.g., electronics) where a lack of cohesive engagement left the industry with a patchwork of policies making compliance challenging.

In the realm of EPR for packaging and paper products, coalitions are no less essential but there has been notable variation from one state to another.

In Oregon, for example, the path to EPR for packaging and paper products began with market disruptions and the loss of access to international recycling markets as a result of National Sword. In response, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) convened a steering committee to identify alternatives and invited broad representation from local government, advocacy groups and the waste and recycling industry. The committee ultimately recommended a unique EPR approach that delivers additional resources to expand Oregon’s well-established curbside recycling system and leaves the state’s beverage container deposit program intact. When fully implemented, the EPR program will harmonize collection lists across the state and invest in increased outreach and education, contamination reduction and responsible end markets. MRFs too will benefit from new funding streams to help manage contamination and respond to swings in the commodities markets. Oregon’s model is unique for sure. And even though it included only limited participation from producers, the legislation passed in 2021 because the existing stakeholders in the system worked collaboratively and addressed concerns early. Today, DEQ continues to leverage the coalition by engaging members of the steering committee in EPR implementation through the system advisory council and the rulemaking advisory committees.

Oregon’s neighbor to the north is still developing its EPR policy for packaging and paper products, and in doing so, demonstrating significant progress by evolving the policy to address stakeholder needs and concerns. Washington State Representative Liz Berry deliberately brought people and interests together to address core policy issues like how to define the “producer” who must take responsibility, and how to make the program additive in a state with a strong recycling base. These changes brought Ameripen, which has been oppositional to most EPR for packaging and paper products proposals, to a supporting position. Although the bill didn’t beat the clock in a short session this year, the pieces on the chess board moved in ways that pave the way for progress next year. 

In contrast to Oregon and Washington, Colorado has a less developed curbside recycling system and recycling rates that lag behind the national average. Led by Recycle Colorado, the state’s recycling advocates saw EPR for packaging and paper products as an avenue to address those lagging recycling rates in a state with fewer government resources to deliver recycling services. Because there was a less established system in place, Colorado had an opportunity to create a system that was less encumbered by legacy interests. Producers also saw an opportunity to model a program on more conventional EPR for packaging and paper products programs, like those in most Canadian provinces, where producers take a more active role in the operational management of the system. The resulting coalition in Colorado included a long list of household names, like Walmart and Coca-Cola, as well as local governments and recycling and environmental advocacy groups.

The coalition strategy for EPR for packaging and paper products looks much different than the EPR policy for paint, largely because it must be adapted to fit a state landscape that includes a broader array of stakeholders. At the Signalfire Group, we’re delighted to support EPR coalitions across the country, as  well as to represent individual stakeholders in policy processes because, regardless of the shape of the coalition that ultimately enacts them, EPR can deliver improved recycling outcomes. 

From our experience working on EPR across North America, we’ve learned that good coalitions are built on a few core elements. Stakeholders must have a shared understanding, preferably grounded in clear evidence, of the problem they are trying to solve and of the general goals of the policy solution. They must also be willing to share concerns and be earnest in their desire to find compromise. Where these core elements are in place, coalitions can address self-interest, and navigate the intricate political landscapes necessary to deliver environmental, policy and political wins.

Signalfire Group provides knowledge and experience to businesses and governments around the world seeking to use policy and regulation to move toward a circular economy.

The views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not imply endorsement by Resource Recycling, Inc. If you have a subject you wish to cover in an op-ed, please send a short proposal to for consideration.

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