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U.S. communities and states that have put in alternatives to extended producer responsibility (EPR) policies are achieving high municipal solid waste recycling rates at reasonable costs, while also addressing a wider range of the waste stream than narrowly focused EPR mandates, according to a new study conducted by McLean, Va.-based consulting firm SAIC for the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA).
The report found that mandatory EPR programs for food, beverage and consumer product packaging don’t fulfill their promise of creating more cost-effective residential recycling programs and spurring packaging redesign.
“The food, beverage and consumer products industry is committed to environmental stewardship and reducing its impact on the environment,” said Meghan Stasz, senior director of sustainability at Washington, D.C.-based GMA, at Sustainable Packaging Forum in Pittsburgh, where she revealed the study’s findings. “As part of this commitment, America’s food, beverage and consumer products industry is working to identify efficient, holistic waste reduction and recycling solutions that work for consumers and communities, and this analysis by SAIC tells us that EPR does not meet those standards.”
The study evaluated whether mandatory EPR policies for packaging are the better way to meet the environmental aims of the U.S. CPG industry. To that end, SAIC conducted an exhaustive analysis of recycling rates, system costs, packaging changes, and other data from various European and Canadian jurisdictions that use EPR for packaging. The company additionally looked at recycling and waste management data for areas of the United States with high recycling rates, including Ramsey County, Minn. (located in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area), a non-EPR region that has implemented many model municipal recycling policies and practices.
Among the key discoveries of the study were that EPR doesn’t necessarily lead to improved overall recycling rates, drive changes in packaging design and selection, or make waste and recycling systems more efficient or otherwise decrease costs (in fact, EPR programs were found to increase government and administrative costs), and states and municipalities already have at hand a variety of non-EPR policies that are both effective and efficient in terms of boosting recycling rates.
“The CPG industry is focused on responsible solutions that address solid waste across the entire lifecycle -- from design to disposal to recovery -- and that account not only for packaging, but food waste as well,” added Stasz. “The most successful recycling and waste recovery programs will result from comprehensive approaches that leverage industry innovation and collaborative partnerships between NGOs, government and industry, not one-size-fits-all mandates.”
A complete copy of the report is available online.