In the U.S., 40% of household waste is packaging and paper products (PPP) – including plastic containers, steel and aluminum cans, glass bottles and jars, newspaper, and cardboard. Yet the recycling rate for PPP has been stagnant at about 50% for nearly two decades, an enormous missed opportunity to recover billions of dollars’ worth of valuable materials.
Only 9% of plastic products are recycled. Single-use plastic packaging and products like bags, cups, straws, and cutlery are not recyclable in your household blue bin, and litter our oceans, fields, forests, deserts, and waterways.
The responsibility to manage PPP waste has fallen on thousands of municipal governments and their taxpayers at a time when public budgets are shrinking. The recycling system is under-funded, highly fragmented, and lacks adequate infrastructure investment. Every town collects different materials. As a result, well-meaning but confused residents often put the wrong items in their recycling bins, leading to high contamination rates and the ultimate disposal of otherwise recyclable material.
Recent import restrictions on recyclable materials in China and Southeast Asia have only exacerbated fundamental flaws in this approach to recycling. Many municipalities have been forced to limit what materials they accept, raise taxes or fees, or even shutter recycling programs altogether. PPP producers are struggling to find enough quality recycled material to fulfill their ambitious public commitments for recycled-content packaging.
“Extended producer responsibility” (EPR) laws for PPP provide sustainable funding for recycling by shifting the burden from governments and taxpayers to packaging producers and brand owners. These companies decide what packaging to put on the market in the first place. Well-designed EPR progams require modulated fees that oblige producers, through financial incentives, to design their PPP to be recyclable, conserve materials, and incorporate recycled content into new PPP.
Throughout Europe and Canada, EPR programs for packaging have increased recovery rates, reduced confusion and contamination, bolstered recycling infrastructure, and grown strong markets for recycled material. In Europe, where EPR has been established for decades, many countries have PPP recycling rates above 70 and even 80 percent. Meanwhile, British Columbia’s EPR program has achieved a contamination rate of just 6%.
Complementary policies -- like container deposit laws ("bottle bills"), pay-as-you-throw waste programs, and restrictions on problematic single-use plastics -- work in harmony with EPR to further optimize material recovery and recycling systems.
PSI runs confidential calls for our government Full Members to learn, strategize, and exchange insights about packaging EPR legislation.
PSI provides legislative assistance and policy models to support the creation and passage of EPR and plastic reduction legislation. We provide expert testimony, lobbying, and coalition building to support and improve bills throughout the legislative process. During the past 15 years, we have led discussions with governments across the U.S. to develop a menu of legislative elements that are key components of effective EPR legislation for PPP.
We research emerging best practices to reduce plastic bags, straws, cutlery, bottles, polystyrene foam (“styrofoam”), and other single-use plastics. Our sample policies will help your community get started. In Massachusetts, PSI facilitated policy discussions among four statewide environmental groups, the retail association, and the food association to develop a consensus statewide plastic bag policy now under consideration by the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture.
PSI creates educational materials that deliver credible, research-based information to policymakers, government officials, and businesses. We recently released a Packaging EPR Toolkit to raise awareness about the benefits of EPR and what it can look like. Our plastic reduction guides help restaurants and universities eliminate single-use plastics. We also make outreach materials to help governments teach citizens to recycle right.
How You Can Help
Contact PSI for assistance to create and pass an EPR bill or legislation to restrict single-use plastics.
Become a PSI Partner to join multi-stakeholder conversations that are shaping legislation nationwide. The best policies are crafted with everyone at the table!
Restaurants and Eateries
Check out 3 Steps to Reduce Plastic and Benefit Your Business, your complete step-by-step guide to plastic reduction featuring case studies from successful restaurants. Our mobile-friendly Plastic Footprint Tool and Foodware Cost Calculator will help you make informed decisions in no time.
Restaurants in Erie County, NY – contact PSI today for a special opportunity to get individualized plastic reduction guidance for your business.
Colleges and Universities
Follow our Plastic Reduction Toolkit for Universities. This guide will take you step-by-step through the ins and outs of eliminating disposable plastics on a college campus. Learn from the impressive results achieved at three California universities.
Check your recycling agency’s list of accepted materials often to be sure that you’re putting the correct items in your recycling bin, and nothing else. Seek out products with reusable and recyclable packaging (or no packaging at all).
Most unintentional litter is to-go food packaging. Refuse what you don’t need and bring along what you do. For instance, keep a bag handy with real cutlery, a durable water bottle, a metal or silicone straw (if you need one), and a food container for leftovers.
To have an even bigger impact, send your local and state representatives our sample plastic reduction policies to demand action and reap the benefits of reduced litter.