New Regulations for US Packaging Markets

Glass News,

The United States packaging markets will have new regulations to contend with in the coming years.  While the federal government has finally funded recycling as critical infrastructure for community development and environmental improvement, states have become significantly more active when addressing dramatic regulatory change.

Currently, four states have enacted new extended producer responsibility (EPR) laws: California, Colorado, Maine and Oregon. These states could not be more different from one another, and the next round of debates will help shape which, if any, model gains momentum.

The Glass Packaging Institute (GPI) has been involved in every one of these state discussions and has distilled several of the top issues for glass within these programmes. This is important – not just for US domestic manufacturers – but also for North American importers, filled and unfilled product, as well.

We identified and compiled key areas for glass as part of a comprehensive guidebook for our with in the coming years. While the federal members. These issues have come up in every debate, and we have highlighted additional policy areas that can and should be considered to support stronger performance of glass recycling within US EPR discussions.

Key areas for glass

Packaging definition – This is a matter of scope. Does the programme include packaging only, or does it capture single-use serving material (e.g., on-the-go cups and cutlery), as well as printed paper? This is also an area where there is a debate about how deep into the supply chain the regulations may go, such as primary packaging (the bottle), secondary packaging (the case), and tertiary packaging (shipping wrap).

Recycling definition – This is what counts, and often critically, what does not count as recycling. The laws go beyond collection and recovery to include some processing as well. Importantly there is a recognition of the need for secondary processing after the initial sort. Environmental groups are working to exclude waste-to- energy as recycling, and there is increasing debate about waste to fuel or plastics chemical recycling. GPI has successfully argued that residual recyclables to landfill cover should not be defined as recycling.

Collection and recycling rate targets and packaging reduction targets – Target rates are common, and for glass, we try to ensure that the goals are realistic for the levels of investment anticipated, as well as variable by material. Rates for glass, aluminium, plastic and paper can vary. Reduction targets are a provision in the California law targeted at plastic. Brands must cut back on plastic over the course of the decade, reducing, switching material, adding recycled content, or moving to refillable.

Reuse definitions and targets – There is usually some exemption for, or incentive toward, refill and reuse in the EPR programme, and allowing those containers to be exempt from fees. GPI is working to make sure that each state recognises the need for collection and rewash infrastructure, which can lead to a discussion about adding a deposit return scheme (DRS) within the programme. In addition, the timeline and rates must be realistic and without too many requirements to help them get off the ground.

Eco-modulated fees – This is a key feature that is critical to developing a fair system. Most brands argue that Focus USA they must report sales by weight because that is their primary scale of measurement. Without proper eco- modulation fees rewarding positive traits such as recyclability, higher recycled content levels and lack of toxins, brands could be rewarded for putting their products in poorly recycled plastics. Units should be measured, and regulators need as much data as possible to establish proper fees for the packaging behaviour they wish to influence. Interestingly, the toxics issue is coming up more, regarding metals as well as PFAS in groundwater.

Scope of collection service – Another key matter that is often overlooked is the debate over whether the programme developed is merely residential or extended to commercial collection opportunities. Multi-family housing, underserved in many areas, is often zoned differently than residential, and care must be taken to include mixed-use multi-family complexes. In addition, GPI has made a strong case to include hospitality collections on top of residential, especially if there is reluctance to extend to ‘commercial’ areas. With the unique position of alcoholic beverages in glass, and the fact that those packages will pay into the system, the hospitality sector deserves collection points to recover their material.

Producer accountability, compliance and organisational options – These are a core feature of most EPR schemes, and while the baseline expectation is for a board to be formed from the producers paying into the program, there are still some matters and debates which are necessary to keep an eye on. Using the Maine model, some states with added concerns from environmental interests, are not promoting the creation of any producer responsibility organisation (PRO) and are instead asking the state environmental regulator to run the programme. Without decision-making authority or efficiencies, their ‘EPR’ programme is essentially more of a ‘packaging tax’ than an EPR. In addition, GPI has been advocating for transparency at the PRO level – are the variety of materials included in the fee structure represented on the PRO Board, and do ex-officio materials retain seats to provide continued expertise in recycling? Another question in this space: How many PROs can be formed, and when? If the PRO is too heavily weighted to plastics, there may not be as balanced a recovery system developed.

Lastly, GPI is working to ensure that opportunities for separate streams of recovery are included in collection options, that material recovery facilities (MRF) performance standards for residual contamination for output to the secondary market are included, and that the systems preserve an opportunity for a DRS to be created within the framework of the EPR.

This piece was originally published in the January/February 2023 issue of Glass Worldwide.