What’s Coming Down the Pipeline for Colorado and EPR

On June 2, 2022, Colorado’s extended producer responsibility (EPR) bill, HB 22-1355, was signed, setting forth the motion to improve the state’s 15 percent recycling rate.

Recycle Colorado’s 2022 Summit for Recycling in Aurora was packed with attendees from across the state. Resa Dimino, managing partner at SignalFire Group and managing principal at Resource Recycling Systems (RRS), spoke to attendees about the nuances of EPR and what it might mean for producers.

“It’s important to remember when we’re talking about who the producer is,” she explained. “We’re not talking about the company that makes the actual cereal box the box board manufacturer, we’re talking about Kellogg’s the company whose brand is on that box.”

At the core of the policy is the requirement of the product or package producer to be responsible for a particular product or package at the end of its useful life. The responsibility can entail financial, operation or both. Each program is structured based on the product and packaging as well as the state and the specific infrastructure needed.

Colorado’s HB 22-1355 places “very high full financial responsibility and pretty high operational responsibility on the producer.”

She added, “that makes sense for you given the state of your infrastructure given the state of the programs here, but if you’re looking at states like Connecticut and even in Maine, which is shown for electronic, but true also for EPR.”

States with advanced recycling systems such as Maine require municipal transfer stations in every town. Municipal transportation networks can be the foundation for EPR programs, handing operational responsibility to municipalities and financial responsibility to producers.

Unwrapping EPR for Packaging

Over the past two decades, EPR legislation has been used primarily for toxic and hazardous products, or products that “are bulky or otherwise difficult to manage,” Dimino said.

Products such as carpets, mattresses, batteries, paint and electronics have seen their recycling rates rise with the implementation of such policies. EPR for packaging has moved at a slower pace for a number of reasons.

Despite years-long efforts to move the needle on recycling, resources and capacity have been a catastrophic detriment to waste reduction and diversion.

“Government is traditionally responsible for this. They don’t have the resources don’t have the capacity to really make happen, what needs to happen,” she said. “They’re also not making the decision of what comes down the belt at the MRFor what comes to the curb to be picked up for recycling. EPR offers that opportunity to increase diversion and recovery, but not at local government costs.”

EPR legislation is also bound by equity. Municipalities typically tack on the costs of recycling to property taxes or flat fees. 

Dimino explained: “Your neighbor is really wasteful and is putting out full cans of recycling every week, they are paying the same as you may be putting out very little amount maybe reducing as much waste as you can and that sort of thing. If you incorporate the cost of recycling in the cost of the product as EPR does. You’re paying for what you recycle. They’re paying for what they recycle. It’s fairer.”

Finally EPR allows for the improvement in product design and a reduction in a producer’s environmental footprint. If a producer takes responsibility for the product at the end of their useful life, there will now be an incentive to make it easier to manage waste diversion at the municipal level.

A National Glance

EPR for packaging and printed paper has seen “an explosion” over the last 20 years. While the European Union was the first to pioneer legislation in 2000, the rest of the industrialized world quickly followed.

Bills in Maine and Oregon passed in 2021, quickly followed by Colorado and California. A dozen states have considered EPR in 2022, with bills in New Jersey and Massachusetts rolling through legislative sessions. Dimino estimated the momentum to continue in 2023.

Speaking of the importance of HB 22-1355, Dimino said, “Colorado is really important in terms of setting the groundwork for what the other states are going to be looking at as they move forward into 2023 and beyond.”

Why Now?

Dimino noted her decade of experience with EPR. While progress has been slow, a need for stable funding emerged as a result of China’s National Sword policy. 

“Municipalities are not particularly resilient and able to respond to huge changes in markets on the basis of a week or a month; and so, it was a real challenge for our industry and our infrastructure to respond to, and I think people began to realize that we’re not able to really depend on this infrastructure if it’s so vulnerable to these kinds of market shifts,” she said.

While waste reduction efforts have been achieved in piecemeal ways, collaboration with producers on the development of circular systems can assist in reaching corporate climate goals along with recycling goals. The end result – a community with stable, sustainable program.

Dimino also stressed the impact of EPR on stagnant recycling rates, saying: “I think we’ve all there’s a lot of people in this room that have worked really hard for a really long time, and we haven’t been able to move the recycling rate. We need to be able to look at this and say it’s time to do things differently, and EPR gives us the opportunity to do that.”

Editor’s Note: This is the first part of a two-part series providing an EPR update from Recycle Colorado’s Summit for Recycling conference which was held August 22 – 24, 2022. Part 1 discussed the necessity and structure of EPR programs. Part 2 dives into EPR programming and what could mean for recycling in the state of Colorado.

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