Extended producer responsibility — basically fees paid by manufacturers to help fund recycling — would be a big change in policy for the United States. But some members of Congress are taking a look at it and some companies are backing the move.
Rep. Rosa DeLauro, the Connecticut Democrat who heads the powerful Appropriations Committee, called at a March 18 hearing for Congress to advance stronger plastics policies and asked witnesses what they thought of EPR.
As well, Rep. Matt Cartwright, D-Pa., said he was "fascinated" by EPR for packaging and compared it to another federal program, a fee that mine owners pay to the Abandoned Mine Lands Trust Fund to finance cleanups.
"It's the same idea, and I like it, and I want to talk more about [EPR]," Cartwright said.
The lawmakers spoke at an appropriations subcommittee hearing on plastics, where Cartwright quizzed witnesses on a fee Norway puts on plastic bottles and on plans in the United Kingdom to tax manufacturers of packaging if the recycling rate falls below 30 percent.
The questions don't mean that any kind of EPR fee is imminent. The only packaging EPR introduced in Congress last year, the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act, stalled out.
And national EPR would be a big policy switch in an area traditionally left to states. The subcommittee's top-ranking Republican, Ohio Rep. David Joyce, expressed concern about "heavy-handed federal mandates" and product bans hindering innovation.
But having an EPR dialogue in a congressional hearing shows that lawmakers are grappling in more detail with funding better recycling programs. The main Democratic climate bill in the House, introduced this month, calls for a task force to study creating EPR in the U.S.
The hearing was called by Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, in her first meeting as chair of the Appropriations subcommittee overseeing the Environmental Protection Agency and the Interior Department. Pingree has been active on plastics issues and said she wanted her first subcommittee hearing to focus on plastics.
Democrats are expected to introduce a new version of the Break Free Act soon, and EPR had the support from one consumer products company testifying at Pingree's hearing, Nestle USA.