Packaging Digest is part of the Informa Markets Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them. Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

The road to recovery?

The road to recovery?
Victor Bell

Victor BellDemand for recycled-content packaging materials continues to grow in the U.S. But the market and infrastructure for collecting used materials suffers somewhat from various limitations, whether they be financial, logistical or emotional. 

Recently, there's been an uptick in conversations around extended producer responsibility programs (voluntary) and/or regulations (mandatory) to help boost recycling rates—which would also help improve the supply of recycled materials.

Victor Bell, president of Environmental Packaging Intl. (EPI)—a consultancy specializing in global environmental packaging and product stewardship requirements—talks to Packaging Digest about the current and possible future state of EPR in the U.S.


Q: Who is initiating the EPR conversation today in the U.S. and why?

A: The conversation is being led by a number of different interests: 

1. Organizations focused on sustainability and balancing corporate economics with the social, health and environmental impacts of consumer products and packaging, like Future 500 and the Product Stewardship Institute;


2. Private industry, like Nestle Waters, whose funding helped establish the non-profit initiative Recycling Reinvented that is committed to increasing recycling rates in the U.S. through EPR; 

3. Environmental organizations who view EPR as a way to divert more waste from landfills and waterways as marine debris; and 

4. Local cities and towns that are financially strapped and need money to maintain or expanding their recycling systems.


Q: How much of it relates to packaging instead product stewardship? 

I'm only talking about EPR as it relates to packaging and printed paper. In terms of product stewardship, that dialogue is being driven by cities, towns and state governments, who are pushing to get materials like tires, electronics, paint, fluorescent bulbs and mattresses out of the waste stream. EPR for these products is already well-established throughout the U.S. and, for many of them, there's been good cooperation between industry and government, with some model legislation developed by industry.


Q: How do the programs being proposed in the U.S. differ from other countries and why? 

In the U.S., almost all of the EPR programs being proposed include both printed paper and packaging. While that same approach holds true in Canada, in Europe, most programs don't cover non-packaging printed paper. Other than that difference, the intent of the bills on the table here is the same as the intent of the laws in place globally: to transfer the cost of recycling from cities and towns to private industry which puts the products on the market. What remains to be seen is how costs will be shared. Worldwide, the funding by industry can range from 50 to 100 percent, and this is a big topic of discussion in the U.S.


Q: The goal of many/most EPR programs is to boost recycling rates but not all packaging materials are recycled or even have a recycling infrastructure. What then? 

Under global EPR programs, all packaging is subject to fees based on how difficult the materials are to recycle and how valuable the materials are at the end of life. But there aren't always recycling programs available for all those materials. That's because, sometimes, there's not economic justification for recycling them since the collection costs are high and there's no market for the materials. While the fees for these non-recovered materials are normally higher, as the technology to handle them improves and they can be added to the system, their value could increase relative to processing costs-and fees may be reduced.

Q: With demand for recycled-content materials high, is EPR the best way to ensure a consistent, quality supply at an affordable cost? Why or why not? 

EPR may not dictate whether a community should have a single stream or multi stream, but it does allow for investment in better education and technology—such as optical sorting, better collection facilities and other infrastructure enhancements that increase the volume and value of the recycled-content materials. Right now, cities and towns don't have the money to fund these investments; that's where the private sector could help.


Q: What's the chance that the U.S. will see EPR legislation on a national scale? 

I think it's unlikely. A number of states are looking at model legislation with similar definitions and other components. But just like in Canada, where there are distinct programs in place in the various provinces, the U.S. Congress has no appetite to pass legislation on a national level. What's happening right now is on a state-by-state basis. If those programs are enacted, then there could be a move to harmonize them throughout the country at some future date, but at this time, I don't foresee that happening.



Hide comments


  • Allowed HTML tags: <em> <strong> <blockquote> <br> <p>

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
Multigenerational Workforce

In today’s workplace, five generations are actively employed. In this free ebook, learn how to leverage the strengths of each generation in your packaging department.