Recycling Reinvented, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization created to help increase recycling rates in the U.S. through extended producer responsibility (EPR) for packaging and printed paper, is expanding its mission.
In the last two years, Recycling Reinvented has worked to introduce legislation in several states and commission a cost-benefit study for Minnesota to show how EPR could increasing recycling rates and find cost efficiencies on a statewide level. Its two staff of Paul Gardner and Melissa Walsh Innes, former legislators in Minnesota and Maine, respectively, and its board have reached out to hundreds of stakeholders nationwide from the public, private, and nonprofit sectors.
“At the beginning of the decade, no one thought too seriously about EPR for packaging,” says Gardner, Recycling Reinvented’s executive director. “Today, everyone is talking about it. While not all stakeholders support EPR, everyone agrees that recycling rates need to go up. With that in mind, Recycling Reinvented is going to expand its policy focus beyond just EPR to other supportive policy areas.”
The push for EPR has moved many consumer brands, their suppliers, and trade associations to look at other ways to support recycling. Those efforts include the Closed Loop Fund (created by Walmart) and The Recycling Partnership operated by the Curbside Value Partnership. Both initiatives involve significant financial commitments to optimize recycling and have plans to achieve measurable results. However, it is also clear that supportive policy changes at the state level will be necessary to create change at a larger scale. These policies can include, but are not limited to, unit-based pricing for solid waste (often called pay-as-you-throw), disposal bans on recyclables, recycling service provision requirements, as well as commitment to funding local government needs for education and enforcement.
Recycling Reinvented has heard from companies that they’re willing to support other policy ideas to increase quality collection and processing of recyclables. “Advocating for policy or government funding is not something that comes naturally to the private sector because of fears about the messiness of the policy-making process,” says Gardner. “Recycling Reinvented has the skills to work with companies through the advocacy process to get policy passed that supports recycling.”
“Recycling Reinvented has built a network of the right contacts at state agencies and state legislatures during the last two years,” says deputy director Melissa Walsh Innes. “With the right coalition, we could see some big results during legislative sessions starting in 2015.”