Having industry put up money to help fix plastics recycling — or extended producer responsibility, as it's known in government — got a lot more real last week with a few pieces of news.
Item one: Word from California that consumer brands and packaging companies are working on a $1 billion industry-funded plan to raise money for recycling.
Item two: The Flexible Packaging Association, which represents makers of the thin plastic film packaging that's so popular with consumers but such a nightmare to recycle, announced an eight-point EPR plan with a product stewardship group.
Item three: The National Association for PET Container Resources touched the third rail of recycling politics and endorsed bottle bills, a type of EPR, as the best way to achieve the container recycling rates we need.
Plastics News has had stories on our website on each of those developments, and even others that you wouldn't have seen a year ago from Washington, like the top-ranking Senate Democrat on the environment committee urging the Environmental Protection Agency to support EPR for plastics producers.
"Plastic producers should fund much-needed recycling infrastructure," Delaware Sen. Tom Carper wrote, outlining part of his vision of plastics waste policy.
You can't get much more direct than that.
Of course, you still have to travel from words and policy proposals to deeds and programs that actually recycle that piece of plastic. But all these stories we've reported in recent days are signs of how quickly things are changing.
It'll take resources to fix recycling and make plastics part of a more circular economy, and there's an increasing desire on the part of businesses to find the money to do that.
You're seeing a lot of public pressure motivating businesses in each of these examples.
The effort in California is a response to plans by environmental groups and others to ask voters to put a tax on single-use packaging to fund recycling.
The state government estimates that tax could raise at least $1 billion a year. So to present a credible alternative, industry groups say they need something in the same range.
Details on that effort are expected to emerge in upcoming weeks, in time to introduce it in the state legislature in Sacramento.
I don't think the plastics tax that industry wants to avoid can be ruled out, or ruled in, at this point. Voters in the Golden State passed a statewide plastic bag ban in 2016, so it's certainly possible that a single-use plastics tax could also score a win on the ballot.
Similarly, the EPR plan from the flexible packaging industry is also a response to pressure.
Facing the prospect of bans or other legislation that could limit the market position of flexible plastic, the industry spent a year working with the Boston-based Product Stewardship Institute to come up with a viable EPR plan.
PSI includes a lot of state and local government officials in its membership, so the two groups hope that their agreement can form a template for legislation in the 10 or so states seriously considering EPR.
Alison Keane, the head of FPA, sees EPR as a way for flexible packaging to have an "on ramp" to circularity, rather than facing roadblocks in the form of a bans.
You could say it's smart politics for the industry. If plastic and packaging lobbyists see that EPR is going to happen, it's better to get in front and try to shape it than cede that power to others. That way you can at least get something you can work with. For businesses, maybe that's the most effective argument for EPR.
Toloken is a Plastics News assistant managing editor. Follow him on Twitter @Steve_Toloken.