What is PPP?
Packaging and printed paper (PPP), a category of materials that includes traditional curbside recyclables, such as aluminum, glass, plastic, paperboard, newspapers, phone books, and office paper, makes up about 40 percent of the U.S. municipal solid waste stream.
Stagnant Recycling Rate
Even with broad availability of recycling programs in much of the country, the recycling rate for PPP has been stagnant for the last decade due to numerous factors:
- Costs to manage PPP continue to increase, with most of the financial burden falling squarely on government at a time when state and municipal budgets are shrinking.
- The patchwork of locally controlled municipal recycling programs combined with private haulers and processors has led to a variation in accepted materials and inconsistent educational messaging that causes confusion among residents.
- Municipal recycling programs often do not prioritize collection of packaging materials that originate from places outside of the home (e.g., commercial and institutional establishments and/or public areas with waste receptacles).
The environmental costs of wasting PPP go beyond the impact of filling up landfills and waste to energy facilities. There has been a striking accumulation of plastic pollution in waterways. Much of this plastic pollution originates as consumer packaging. The source reduction of plastic packaging and increased recovery of this material stream is essential to prevent further damage to our lakes, rivers, and oceans. PSI received grant funding from US EPA Region 9 to develop resources to address source reduction:
Nearly 50 million tons of PPP are disposed of each year, representing a missed opportunity to recover valuable resources. Using 2010 disposal data, the market value of disposed PPP was estimated to be $11.4 billion.
At the same time, as more manufacturers seek to achieve their corporate sustainability goals, the global demand for recycled materials as feedstock for new products (including PPP) is rapidly increasing. This means there’s an opportunity to create new jobs in the recycling sector that focus on recovering valuable materials from discarded PPP.
By requiring brand owners to cover the cost of recycling their PPP at the end of life, extended producer responsibility (EPR) programs encourage producers to reduce the amount of packaging they use, redesign their packaging to be more readily recyclable, and take advantage of market forces to maximize material recovery. EPR programs for PPP are spreading rapidly around the world, with laws already in place in 34 European nations; 11 countries in Asia, South America, and Africa; Australia; and five Canadian provinces. For more information on global EPR programs visit EXPRA and PRO EUROPE.
The Canada-Wide Action Plan for EPR developed by the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment (CCME) calls for all provinces to adopt EPR for PPP. A report was published in 2014 by PSI and PAC NEXT to encourage harmonization as new EPR systems for PPP are developed:
Since 2011, five U.S. states have introduced EPR legislation covering PPP from the residential sector. However, to date, none have been enacted. In addition to PSI’s work to make the case for EPR in the US, several studies have been published including the Packaging EPR Cost-Benefit Study by Recycling Reinvented and Unfinished Business: The Case for EPR for Post-Consumer Packaging by As You Sow.
Voluntary programs developed with the input of only a hand-picked selection of stakeholders have not been effective at significantly reducing the growth of packaging waste, nor have they made great strides nationally to increase recycling or provide financial relief to governments for PPP management expenses. There are some noteworthy voluntary initiatives in the US including:
Although no EPR laws for PPP have passed in the U.S. to date, 10 states have adopted beverage container deposit legislation. Commonly referred to as “bottle bills,” many of these laws date back to the 1980s and have resulted in recycling rates that are up to three times higher than those in states without bottle bills. Bottle bill opponents argue that such systems are costly and difficult to manage, and that has spurred debate over whether more states should adopt this type of legislation.
There is also debate over whether bottle bills are a form of EPR: some believe they are, while others view them as a precursor-policy to EPR. Many EPR programs in Europe and Canada include both deposit and curbside collection programs, since deposit programs effectively capture beverage containers, while curbside programs capture other recyclables. We recommend the Bottle Bill Resource Guide for more information.
To view existing product stewardship laws in the U.S., visit our State EPR Laws page. To view pending and active legislation in the U.S.—privileged content available exclusively to PSI Members and Partners—login here.
For more information, please contact Waneta Trabert at (617) 236-4866.