Colorado's legislature May 11 became the third state in the country — and the first in 2022 — to pass producer responsibility legislation for packaging, including plastics.
The 21-14 vote by the state Senate sends the measure to Democratic Gov. Jared Polis's desk to sign or veto.
While many details remain to be worked out, supporters called it a major step to try to improve the state's 15 percent recycling rate and build infrastructure to support collection and reuse of more glass, aluminum, paper and plastics packaging.
In a statement, the group Environment Colorado said it would require companies to provide more financial support for recycling programs.
"For too long, manufacturers of plastic have put the responsibility of dealing with plastics — recycling and disposal — on the shoulders of individuals and local communities," said Rex Wilmouth, senior program director. "Now, when manufacturers are held responsible for the plastics that can't be reused or recycled easily, they'll stop producing so much of it in the first place."
If signed by Polis, the bill would set up a roughly three-year timeline for implementation. It would require Colorado's Department of Public Health and Environment to designate a nonprofit organization to manage a statewide program, funded by annual dues paid by companies, by mid-2023.
It sets timelines for conducting a needs assessment and for the non-profit to present a plan to the state and an advisory board by Feb. 1, 2025. The group would also develop of list of covered materials and set minimum recycling targets for 2030 and 2035.
Eco-Cycle, a recycling materials recovery facility in Boulder, Colo., said the legislation is backed by 65 local governments and large consumer brands including Nestle, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Danone, Unilever and Walmart. It predicted the bill would improve the state's recycling programs with "no additional costs to local governments or consumers."
One of its legislative sponsors, state Rep. Lisa Cutter, called it "game changing legislation" in a statement on Twitter.
But the American Forest and Paper Association urged Polis to veto it, saying it ignores the success of paper recycling and said it would shift costs of new recycling regulations from local governments to Coloradans, and said the state "should instead focus on addressing underfunded and undeveloped recycling programs."
It said more paper is recycled in the state by weight in municipal programs than aluminum, glass, steel and plastic combined.
Supporters of the legislation said Colorado's 15 percent recycling and composting rate is half the U.S. average.
Legislators added an amendment to the bill in late debate May 10, giving them much more control and review of any recycling program that the non-profit organization develops. The change was pushed by Republican Senator Paul Lundeen, the minority whip in the Democratic-controlled chamber, and also required more transparency in how the non-profit operates and sets caps on administrative costs.
Lundeen told his colleagues in a speech on the Senate floor that while parts of the bill made him "very uncomfortable" he said there's universal agreement that recycling must be improved but the debate is over how to do that.
He said the legislation would require the producer responsibility organization to develop several different scenarios and costs for boosting recycling, and he said that while legislative talks were at times contentious, he praised the bill's framework for trying to help the state get to a better place in its recycling programs.
Democratic Sen. Kevin Priola, one of the main authors of the bill, said like similar legislation in Canada, Colorado's EPR system could modify fees charged to companies based on recycled content use or recycling rates of packaging, known as eco-modulation. He predicted the compromises worked out in Colorado's bill could be adopted by other states.
If the bill is signed by Polis, Colorado will join Maine and Oregon with extended producer responsibility laws for packaging. Other states, including New York, are actively considering their own EPR legislation this year.