Nashville, Tenn. — Industry needs to be ready for a much stronger government role in plastics recycling, potentially including things like fees on packaging to help pay for costly upgrades to collection infrastructure.
That was the message that came from some industry leaders at the recent Plastics Recycling Conference and Trade Show, where discussions about government policy — and directly with government officials — took a much larger place than normal.
The call for a packaging fee, for example, came from Keefe Harrison, CEO of the industry-funded group The Recycling Partnership, which raises money from companies to support local recycling programs.
She told the conference, held Feb. 17-19 in Nashville, that her group is getting ready to announce policy proposals to help close a $9 billion shortfall in funding local recycling systems. Harrison suggested it could include a fee on packaging.
"A partial penny per package would go a long way to building the solutions that we need to get to that $9 billion leveling up," Harrison told the audience. "We're working on policy initiative right now."
As well, Steve Alexander, president and CEO of the Association of Plastic Recyclers, told the conference that there's growing recognition in industry, and some change in thinking, that government policy is needed.
"The reality is that we're beginning to understand that we do not have the ability to do this alone," Alexander said. "Policy must play a role, as we look to grow and enhance the recycling system in this country.
"Policy is critical and it's going to play a role," he said. "We are not saying we're going to agree with them on everything, but we hope to be the data point to tell them what the art of the possible is so we can really work to solve this issue."
The public concern about plastics and more broadly about recycling is being heard in Congress, and Washington is paying attention in ways it's not done for many years, Harrison said.
"We see Congress is interested in this in a way that they have not been in decades, and we want to make sure that they get it right because now is the time," Harrison said.
That interest is reflected in proposals like a Feb. 11 bill from two Democratic lawmakers calling for bans on some single-use plastics and plans to shift the cost of recycling to companies through an extended producer responsibility system that would apply to all packaging materials.
That proposal, the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act of 2020, was a centerpiece of discussion at the conference.
While it's quite unlikely the bill will become law as it stands now, it's gotten considerable attention.
The conference, in fact, began with a lengthy panel discussion between APR's Alexander and congressional staff working on recycling and plastics issues, including Jonathan Black, a senior adviser to Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., one of the authors of the Feb. 11 legislation.