Rhode Island Considering Extended Producer Responsibility for Packaging

Rhode Island lawmakers have introduced two bills that could put end-of-life product management duties onto the shoulders of packaging producers. If passed, Rhode Island will become the first state to enact legislation for extended producer responsibility (EPR) for printed paper and packaging (PPP).

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. Meanwhile, House Bill 5673 (HB 5673), introduced on Feb. 26, calls on various stakeholders within the Ocean State to assess the management of "existing and future EPR and/or product stewardship programs." HB 5508 has been referred to the House Finance Committee, and HB 5673 has been sent to the House Environment and Natural Resources Committee.

No U.S. state currently utilizes a comprehensive EPR system for printed paper and packaging (PPP), though EPR systems exist in numerous states, including Rhode Island, for end-of-life management of products such as electronics, mercury-containing devices, car switches and paint, and the state will begin a similar initiative for mattresses in 2016. British Columbia implemented an EPR program for PPP last year.

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 that 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 "an EPR and product stewardship program management structure" that could be followed for current and future programs, the bill states.

In 2014, a coalition of companies including Walmart, P&G, Unilever, J&J, Keurig Green Mountain, Coca-Cola, Cargill and Goldman Sachs launched the Closed Loop Fund, a $100 million fund aimed at providing municipalities access to zero- and low-interest loans to increase recycling infrastructure in the US, with the added benefit of providing the companies a stable stream of recycled content to infuse back into their packaging. Shortly after the Fund’s launch, a group of public interest organizations called on the companies involved to instead support proven policies to boost recycling, such as EPR, which holds companies financially responsible for the collection of their packaging post-use (rather than having taxpayers and local governments foot the bill), therefore helping municipalities meeting recycling targets.

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