With several states pursuing their own Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) legislation for packaging, Global Pouch Forum invited Alison Keane to help make sense of it all.

Keane is President and CEO of the Flexible Packaging Association (FPA) and was Friday’s keynote speaker at Global Pouch Forum, which took place May 29-31 in Clearwater, Florida.

There is understandably great concern about the hodgepodge of packaging regulations that could potentially result from several states developing their own EPR standards. However, Keane sounded some notes of optimism.

Each state designates a producer responsibility organization (PRO) to implement industry reforms. Keane said one bit of good news is that several states have selected Circular Action Alliance as their PRO, which could bring “some harmonization and some clarity” to regulations coming down the pike.

Furthermore, for packaging firms required to participate in multiple state-level EPR programs, this means “you write your checks to one PRO,” Keane noted.

Keane noted one big shift in the packaging paradigm: In the coming years, it won’t be sufficient for packaging to be recyclable or compostable. Stakeholders also will have to demonstrate that the packaging actually is being recycled or composted.

Despite that challenging outlook, Keane encouraged packaging firms to continue making recycle-ready and compostable products, adding that “The United States needs to modify its infrastructure” to help achieve recycling and composting goals.

In addition to recyclable and compostable packaging, reusable/refillable packaging is expected to figure prominently among EPR mandates. “We’re starting to see it creep in more and more in the legislation we see in the United States,” Keane said.

State-Level versus Federal-Level EPR

As reported by Packaging Strategies, the Minnesota legislature in May passed a packaging EPR framework that shortly thereafter was signed into law by Governor Tim Walz. The Minnesota legislation received good reviews from the American Institute for Packaging and the Environment (AMERIPEN).

“I don’t think we want 50 states doing EPR,” Keane said. However, if EPR legislation is going to occur at the state level, it is preferable to have states like Minnesota passing laudable EPR legislation that can serve as a model for other states.

March saw the U.S. Senate pass two pieces of bipartisan legislation focused on improving the nation’s recycling and composting systems: the Recycling Infrastructure and Accessibility Act of 2023, and the Recycling and Composting Accountability Act.

However, Keane noted Friday, the two bills are “not going anywhere in the House.”

Keane said it’s unlikely that recycling and composting will get much more attention on Capitol Hill during the remainder of 2024 what with this being an election year. 

Keane added that regardless of who wins the presidential election in November – Donald Trump or Joe Biden – new appointments will be made to congressional committees and to posts within the administration, which could further delay any attention given to packaging legislation.