Washington — Federal policy is needed to help build the infrastructure to scale up reusable packaging, including as a part of a national bottle bill, witnesses told a Senate environment subcommittee hearing on July 27.
The hearing, the third in a series on plastics pollution led by Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., looked at whether reusable packaging could reduce waste from single-use products.
Some witnesses said reusable packaging can have a lower environmental footprint than single-use materials, and government policy like extended producer responsibility programs or bottle bills can help reusable systems scale up.
"It is best if these policies are packaged together at the federal level and are consistent with action underway at the global level," said Dacie Meng, senior manager for policy and institutions at the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. "While local and small-scale solutions have demonstrated the opportunity and will continue to play a key role in the implementation of reuse systems, we need cohesive federal action to accelerate progress."
Clemence Schmid, general manager of reuse platform Loop Global, told the hearing that government funding could help build infrastructure for collecting and operating reuse systems.
She urged Merkley to include reuse in a national bottle bill that he plans to introduce.
"We are very supportive of reuse being part of Sen. Merkley's national bottle bill, and we recommend not to limit it to bottles only," Schmid said.
Similarly, the head of a trade association for the reusable transport packaging industry said federal action would help and argued that reusable packaging policy should be material neutral.
"Reusable packaging is material neutral, typically made from plastics, wood, aluminum or glass," said Tim Debus, president and CEO of the Reusable Packaging Association. "The key is product design for durability, not disposability, using safe and recyclable materials, and having the system in place to ensure repeated use and end-of-life recycling.
"Plastics-based reusable packaging can be very effective in a managed system, where product utility is extended and plastic material is valued," he said.
In his written testimony, Debus pointed to several RPA member companies that supply reusable plastic packaging and recycle it at end of life, including Orbis Corp., Rehrig Pacific, Monoflo, Cabka and Schaefer Plastics.
During hearing testimony, he urged Congress to get more involved in reusables policy, in the same way he said the 2021 infrastructure spending law invested in municipal solid waste management.
"Congress has the opportunity to prioritize game-changing investments in reuse systems," he said.