Today, a group of public interest organizations called on Walmart and the eight other companies involved in the recently launched $100M “Closed Loop Recycling” loan fund, to instead support proven policies to boost recycling, such as extended producer responsibility (EPR), which holds consumer goods companies financially responsible for the collection of their packaging post-use (rather than having taxpayers and local governments foot the bill) and meeting recycling targets.
According to Walmart: "The aspirational goal is to divert valuable raw materials from landfill by helping to provide 100 percent of US consumers with access to recycling where and when they need it." The fund aims to provide low interest loans to municipalities to advance projects that increase collection and improve recycling infrastructure.
“While $100m seems like a lot of money, it's really just a drop in the bucket — both in terms of what it actually costs the companies, and the amount that's actually needed to significantly boost recycling in the US,” said Matt Prindiville, associate director for UPSTREAM, a national public interest organization working to build a sustainable economy by addressing the root causes of waste.
“While this may help some cities finance some relatively small projects, this is not — nor should it be seen as — a game-changer,” said Prindiville. “This loan fund will do little to help achieve the stated goal to ‘provide 100% of US consumers with access to recycling where and when they need it.’”
The companies involved in the recycling loan fund — which include Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Procter & Gamble, Unilever, Johnson & Johnson and Keurig Green Mountain Coffee — operate under EPR policies in most of Europe and increasingly Canada and Southeast Asia, with over one billion people living in jurisdictions where consumer goods companies pay some or all of the costs of recycling. Beverage companies abide by EPR in most container-deposit (bottle bill) states in the US.
While the same companies involved in the Closed Loop Recycling Fund have operated under EPR systems throughout Europe for many years, they have given strong resistance in the US. This policy approach would cost money and require them to internalize the costs that packaging waste creates for society and the environment — litter, beach cleanups, solid-waste and recycling costs, wasted natural resources and energy, habitat destruction and lost opportunities to grow jobs in recycling.
“The companies involved are not seeking to take responsibility for recycling the packaging waste they create. They are not even really ponying up the money; they're loaning it,” Prindiville said. “Unfortunately, the money promised comes with strings: that local governments will continue to clean up after their mess when the money's all gone.
“This is perhaps the unspoken agreement behind this raw deal — that companies bear little to no responsibility for their packaging; and that governments should continue to subsidize the management of packaging waste through municipal waste services and taxpayer dollars.”
In other recyclable packaging news, in April a coalition of organizations devoted to waste and recycling, plastic pollution and resource conservation launched the Make It, Take It Campaign, a collaborative effort to pressure consumer goods companies to take responsibility for packaging waste. Coordinated by UPSTREAM and backed by 5 Gyres, Clean Water Action, Green America, the National Resources Defense Council and others, the campaign aims to elevate the issue of packaging waste, put public pressure on consumer goods companies and educate and mobilize citizens to push for sustainable packaging policies. The campaign also announced its first target: the Capri Sun juice pouch, which presently can’t be reused, recycled or composted.