Forced Manufacturer-Led Recycling ‘Costlier and Less Successful’

by | Sep 13, 2012

States and cities that have implemented alternatives to extended producer responsibility policies achieve higher municipal solid waste recycling rates at a lower cost than mandatory EPR programs aimed at food, beverage and consumer product packaging, according to an industry study.

The Evaluation of Extended Producer Responsibility for Consumer Packaging study, conducted by consulting firm SAIC for the Grocery Manufacturers Association, found the municipal solid waste recycling rate in the US where there is no packaging EPR is 24 percent, higher than Canada and the European Union – two places where EPR is widely employed – which stand at 18 and 23 percent.

Legislated EPR shifts the cost of managing post-use products from local governments to the producers of those products. Some EPR policies require producers to physically manage their products at end-of-life as well.

The study also says EPR doesn’t always prompt changes in packaging design and selection. Despite a faster-growing GDP, packaging use in the US declined at a faster rate than in the EU, where EPR is common, the study said (see graphic).

SAIC examined whether mandatory EPR policies for packaging are the most effective method to meet the consumer packaged goods industry’s environmental goals in the United States. SAIC analyzed recycling rates, system costs, packaging changes and other data from various European and Canadian jurisdictions that have EPR policies for packaging. The firm also studied recycling and waste management data for areas of the US with high recycling rates, such as Ramsey County, Minn., a non EPR-area where the county and its cities have implemented model municipal recycling policies.

The study says EPR doesn’t necessarily make waste and recycling systems more efficient or decrease costs, pointing to Ramsey County, which has a lower net cost per ton at $156 than EPR programs in Manitoba at $166 per ton and Ontario at $202. The study says EPR programs increase government and administrative costs.

A report released in July from non-profit As You Sow takes an opposite stance on the success of EPR policies. The study says an EPR policy in the US would increase recovery rates for all post-consumer packaging, encourage producers to re-design packaging to reduce materials, create the potential for a secondary materials market, provide stable revenue sources through producer fees and reduce greenhouse gases.

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