As both a natural resources and packaged goods company, Nestlé Waters North America (NWNA) is always looking for ways to reduce our footprint while producing superior products that meet consumer demand. When it comes to our packaging, we are constantly seeking methods to increase our use of recycled PET (rPET) in our bottles. While our eventual goal is 100 percent rPET bottles for all of our brands, currently our Arrowhead®, Deer Park® and resource® bottled waters are made with 50 percent rPET. However, one of the key challenges we face is an inadequate supply of high-quality rPET at reasonable prices, due in part to low recycling rates in the U.S.
Today, an unacceptable 34 percent municipal solid waste (MSW) is recycled, and valuable resources — from bottles and cans to detergent jugs and cardboard boxes — are wasting away in landfills. If industries across the board had increased, consistent access to recycled packaging materials, rPET and other more sustainable options could become the norm in brand packaging.
The bottom line is that we as producers face a common obstacle to net positivity — and more importantly, a common responsibility.
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A major reason why U.S. recycling rates are so low is closely linked to the issue of unfunded state mandates that place an unfair burden on city governments for recycling programs. Since local governments are required to implement these mandates with little to no money (meaning they have to spread thin their already tight budgets and thus take funding away from other vital programs), the end result is often inefficient, ineffective recycling programs.
If state legislators bring about mandate relief on recycling measures for local legislators, a financial weight is lifted. In other words, more of your tax dollars stay in your pocket and in your local community, and existing local governmental programs can run more successfully without competition from unfunded mandates.
NWNA recognizes the importance of government’s role in creating environmental mandates and regulatory standards that hold everyone accountable. At the same time, we see room for industry to step up to the plate and play a crucial role in increasing recycling rates, a role that dovetails on the vital work that government does to set recycling targets and level the playing field. At this crossroad, we envision strong public-private partnerships that could completely transform the way we as a country recoup packaging. It is in our mutual interest to take shared responsibility, and Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) provides us with the roadmap to do it.
State legislators can look at adopting this new recycling model as a smart policy move that creates a win-win by collecting more trash and recyclables, while simultaneously reducing the tax burden on local governments and their constituents.
EPR for Packaging and Printed Paper: Ready for Its Close Up
The EPR model for packaging and printed paper empowers us producers to take a stake in the sustainability of our companies and products. This innovative system brings the financial responsibility of recycling back on producers to increase recycling rates by using private sector business savvy, and reducing government and taxpayer spending. In a time of already constricted state budgets, EPR seems like a no-brainer for government.
We are pleased that we are starting to see state legislators on both sides of the aisle jump on the EPR bandwagon. This paradigm shift stems from the fact that not only are decision makers realizing that EPR for packaging and printed paper can produce lower taxes, higher recycling rates and more constituency loyalty and support, but it offers the reciprocal benefit of shared responsibility. But as Paul Gardner, executive director of Recycling Reinvented, points out in a recent Providence Business News op-ed, shared sacrifice is also part of the equation.
“We know the political process has many obstacles. Successful policy usually means that everyone has to give up a little in order to gain something much bigger,” he explains.
NWNA believes EPR for packaging and printed paper has the potential to be a game changer for waste reduction in the U.S. To be effective and achieve net positivity, EPR demands that we join forces across a broad range of stakeholder groups, including brand owners, trade associations, private haulers, municipalities, state legislatures, environmental NGOs, retailers and more.
For this reason, we have helped build a coalition of recycling stakeholders led by Recycling Reinvented, which is working to advance EPR for packaging and printed paper. Through creative partnerships and a cooperative effort, we are confident we can move EPR legislation in key states in 2013 and help increase U.S. recycling rates for the foreseeable future.