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EPR policies dramatically increase recycling rates, finds study

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EPR policy drove the collection and recycling of target materials to over 75 percent in British Columbia, Belgium, Spain, South Korea, and the Netherlands. Adove Stock Images

U.S. states can expect significant increases in recycling rates for packaging (including plastic, glass, aluminum, and steel) and printed paper with the adoption of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) programs, a new study from The Recycling Partnership finds.

"Increasing Recycling Rates with EPR Policy," explores the impact of EPR programs in seven jurisdictions worldwide and in six U.S. states, to assess the effect on state-level recycling rates and other key metrics. The Recycling Partnership conducted the study.

The research examined the impact of EPR policies on seven paper and packaging recycling programs around the world. The findings showed that across the board, EPR policy drove the collection and recycling of target materials to over 75 percent in British Columbia, Belgium, Spain, South Korea, and the Netherlands, with Portugal and Quebec at over 60 percent. Across all materials, U.S. state programs performed far lower.

"Lack of sustainable funding is one of the greatest challenges for U.S. residential recycling systems," says Keefe Harrison, chief executive officer of The Recycling Partnership. "EPR provides a huge opportunity to unlock the environmental and economic benefits of recycling."

Under EPR policy, companies that produce packaging materials are required to fund local recycling programs by paying fees, shifting the financial burden away from local governments and taxpayers. EPR fees can also incentivize companies to make packaging more recyclable and use a greater percentage of recycled content. Four states (California, Colorado, Maine, and Oregon) have adopted EPR legislation. Several other U.S. states are currently considering these programs.

The Recycling Partnership's study took a deep dive into worldwide EPR programs for printed paper and packaging and explored the prospective impacts of the policy on a sample of U.S. states. The research showed that implementing EPR programs in U.S. states would:

  • Increase overall residential recycling rates by as much as 48 percentage points,
  • Create nearly universal recycling access,
  • Increase overall participation in recycling,
  • Boost the amount of recycled content by millions of tons, and
  • Recapture between $13 million and $91 million in lost material economic value in EPR states

"With this research, we can see that these international programs drive dramatic improvement in recycling rates and that EPR policy has a significant impact. It's clear that well-designed EPR policy is key to growing and improving recycling and achieving a circular economy," says Dylan de Thomas, vice president of public policy and government affairs at The Recycling Partnership.

"EPR has the potential to close gaps in recycling rates for all materials, create jobs, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and deliver even more benefits to support people and planet," says Mr. de Thomas, adding that that the U.S. now needs to apply these learnings.

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