State governments around the country are starting to introduce so-called extended producer responsibility legislation for plastics and other packaging, with a group of legislators in nine states announcing a new coordinated effort Feb. 1.
A plastics industry trade group, however, cautioned against what it said were some efforts to single out plastics, saying the industry supports "fair, feasible" policies that deal with all packaging materials.
The National Caucus of Environmental Legislators announced Feb. 1 that lawmakers in the states California, New York, Oregon, Colorado, Hawaii, Maryland, New Hampshire, Vermont and Washington would be working together on EPR legislation "to hold plastic packaging producers responsible."
Lawmakers are taking different approaches in their states, with some of the legislation dealing broadly with packaging materials of all types. Oregon and New York, for example, have seen bills introduced in recent days both on plastics and on packaging more generally.
Legislators said they wanted to put more of the costs of waste management and recycling on companies producing the packaging and less on local governments.
"We cannot keep pushing environmental costs on to states and municipalities while the industries that profit from polluting continue to peddle the myth that local, taxpayer-funded recycling programs are a real solution," said Hawaii state Rep. Nicole Lowen. "In Hawaii, plastics and other packaging waste threaten our marine resources and pollute our beaches, impacting the economy, public health and our way of life."
She said legislators hope their coordinated effort pushes industry groups to take action on a national scale.
In a statement responding to the state legislative announcement, the American Chemistry Council's plastics division said it supported packaging recycling efforts that don't target plastics.
"Creating an EPR program just for plastic won't solve the waste problem and could lead to material substitutions that could cost more to produce, increase food waste or have higher life cycle impacts such as significant increases in greenhouse gas emissions," said Joshua Baca, ACC's vice president of plastics.
"One of the reasons plastics are so widely used in packaging is that they allow us to do more with less, which inherently reduces waste and carbon emissions, an increasingly important factor as we collectively work to address climate change," Baca said.
In an interview, Baca said the EPR debate should be tied into the Biden administration's climate policies.
"If we're going down a path that simply targets plastic and eventually encourages the use of other materials, well, glass and [others] have a much higher carbon footprint than that piece of plastic," he said.
In October, ACC released a policy plan supporting packaging fees for all materials as an EPR system.
In a statement announcing their coordinated plan, the state legislators said they saw EPR increasing recycling, reducing the volume of packaging and diverting single-use plastics from landfills, ocean dumping and incineration.
"Plastic waste is a global crisis that is threatening our oceans, marine life, the environment and public health," said Ben Allen, a California state senator. "It's also hitting regular folks who are being asked to pay more and more through their trash rates to put Band-Aids on our system."
The legislators said they want EPR to address a product's environmental costs through its entire life cycle. They noted concerns that waste and incineration disproportionately impact low-income and communities of color, as well as worries over microplastics leaking toxics into the environment.