A cost analysis done for the Grocery Manufacturers Association argues that alternatives to extended producer responsibility policies can achieve high municipal solid-waste recycling rates at reasonable costs and address a wider spectrum of the waste stream.
The report, released Sept. 12 at the Sustainable Forum in Pittsburgh, also claims that mandatory EPR programs aimed at food, beverage and consumer-product packaging would not deliver on their promise of creating more cost-effective residential-recycling programs and driving packaging redesign.
The report analyzed recycling rates, system costs, packaging changes and other data from various European and Canadian jurisdictions that employ EPR for packaging. In the U.S., it looked at nationwide recycling rates and recycling programs in Minnesota's Ramsey County.
Among the study's principal findings:
* Packaging use has declined in the United States, where there is no packaging EPR, but it has increased slowly in Europe, where there is widespread packaging EPR.
“There is no indication that EPR has reduced packaging use economywide or had any effect on package design or selection,” said the 68-page report, prepared for GMA by SAIC Energy, Environment & Infrastructure LLC of McLean, Va.
* Price signals sent by EPR to manufacturers are very weak in most jurisdictions compared to the overall value of the products they contain and the price of packaging.
“Packaging EPR generally does not change the relative package cost among different package alternatives for a product,” said the report. “There is insufficient EPR fee differentiation to cause consumer packaged-goods companies to switch from one package format to another.”
The study also said the U.S. has a higher recycling rate for municipal solid waste than both the European Union (23 percent) and Canada (18 percent), where EPR is widely employed.
It also noted that Ramsey County, a non-EPR jurisdiction in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, has a lower net cost per ton ($156) than EPR programs in the Canadian provinces of Manitoba and Ontario, where costs are $166/ton and $202/ton, respectively. However, the report did not look at costs in any other specific municipalities in the U.S.
The report further argued that “states and municipalities already have at their disposal a suite of non-EPR policies that are both effective and efficient in terms of raising recycling rates.”
Specifically, the report cited more than a dozen approaches including disposal limits, recycling rewards or rebates for consumers, penalties, “pay-as-you-throw” disposal pricing, disposal bans, mandatory recycling of certain materials, diversion goals, landfill surcharges or taxes, advanced recycling/disposal fees, mandatory retail take-back programs, and building-design standards.
“Together, [these initiatives] can achieve high recycling rates, without excess cost or administrative burden that results from EPR,” the report said.
Meghan Stasz, senior sustainability director at Washington-based GMA, said: “The most successful recycling and waste-recovery programs will result from comprehensive approaches that leverage industry innovation and collaborative partnerships between [non-governmental organizations], government and industry, not one-size-fits-all mandates.”