Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) is having a moment.

On March 6, I testified before the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works regarding federal interest in EPR for packaging and stakeholder engagement. This marked the first time that packaging EPR, which asserts packaging producers are responsible for helping to fund recovery of their products at its end of life, was the focus of a congressional hearing.

Recycling has been steadily rising in federal discourse since the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021 secured $350 million to strengthen recycling infrastructure and provide recycling education grants across the country. In the past 12 months, the U.S. Senate also passed two pieces of legislation to improve recycling and composting data collection and to expand rural access for recycling infrastructure. EPR provisions for producers of certain products are part of additional legislation reintroduced in October of last year and referred to committee. 

Meanwhile, international binding developments like the United Nations’ global plastics treaty, currently under negotiation and due to be finalized at the end of the year, indicate that a national approach to EPR could gain more serious consideration. It isn’t realistic to expect U.S. companies to abide by global regulation to sell their products, while also conforming to individual state materials and disposal requirements.

The primary purpose of the committee hearing was to gather information and hopefully ensure that any policies under current or future consideration avoid unintended economic consequences and minimize additional costs to consumers, while also protecting the environment. AMERIPEN is not suggesting that a national packaging EPR program be implemented. However, we will consider supporting proposals that properly balance the needs of all stakeholders. Consequently, we welcomed the ability to testify in front of federal policymakers and other stakeholders to explore the potential need for a federal framework. This kind of consensus building is absolutely necessary as policymakers and their staff contemplate the nuance of EPR and packaging recovery.

As part of AMERIPEN’s testimony, I emphasized to the committee that the most significant barrier to a successful national packaging producer responsibility program is the lack of harmonization. Among the states with comprehensive EPR policy, substantial differences in the laws make compliance challenging for businesses. Inconsistent definitions of key terms such as "recycling," "recyclable," and "compostable" across states impede the ability to assess national progress on recycling and waste management objectives. In addition, I also stressed to the committee that more data is needed to build consensus among industry, environmental, and government stakeholders. Data is critical for driving agreement, and we need federal support to address the inadequacy. 

Restricting industry innovations, such as new technologies for all types of recycling, isn’t a solution either. These technologies are among the tools industry has to improve recovery and recycling rates and to advance existing infrastructure. Any program at the state or the federal level that stifles such innovations won’t be effective. 

Committee members were particularly interested in the potential impact of EPR on consumer costs. AMERIPEN acknowledges that there might be a small incremental cost to consumers based on economic principles. However, I also explained that our member companies are mindful of costs for both themselves and consumers. Producers want to meet their environmental and business goals and will likely be willing to internalize some expense to do so. That should minimize the impact to consumers. 

The March 6 hearing highlighted that industry, government, and the environmental community must work together to achieve sustainable outcomes. Collaboration is key to finding a balance between costs and benefits, fostering innovation, and achieving harmonization across states.

For more information about packaging EPR policy and implementation in the United States, and how to get engaged, visit our EPR webinar series pages at www.ameripen.org.