The Issues with Packaging
In some respects packaging doesn’t appear to be a “fit” for Product Stewardship, which has had great success with categorical materials such as electronics, paint, and mattresses here in Connecticut. Packaging, often referenced as PPP – Packaging and Printed Paper – are a disparate group, from cans and bottles, to consumer boxes and writing paper. Many of the PPP materials are captured, to some extent, by Connecticut’s traditional recycling infrastructure, – curbside recycling vehicles, material recovery facilities, transfer stations, etc. So, if we are already recycling these items, why Extended Producer Responsibility?
Well EPR for packaging isn’t new – its just new to the United States. Both in Europe and Canada, an EPR approach to packaging has resulted is increased recycling rates and a reallocation of the related management costs.
Currently in the US the financial underpinnings for recycling – from the bin or cart, – to the recycling vehicle – to the MRF, – are by and large a responsibility of government. The companies and firms that design and manufacture packaging are driven by goals such as marketability, and product differentiation. End of life recycling considerations a distant thought. This has resulted in changes to consumer packaging that are too often detrimental to recycling efforts. For example, many PET bottles are shrink wrapped with a PVC wrapper that results in MRFs optically reading the bottle as PVC and rejecting rather than recycling it. Bottle manufacturers have no incentive to alter their selection of a wrapper as they have no stake in the recycling adversity created. Blister packaging is another prominent example.
In Germany, the Duales System Deutchland or DSD EPR system has resulted in several positive packaging outcomes. As costs were based on the expenses of recycling, producers changed to more recyclable materials. Where possible the external box was eliminated, with toothpaste being a good example.
In Canada, several of the provinces have packaging EPR in place, with British Columbia being the most recent. Cost allocation varies among the provinces and all have a deposit system in place for certain beverage containers. So there are several EPR systems in Europe and in Canada that provide operational examples, with the program differences providing a wealth of field information on what works well.