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US post-consumer packaging legislation looms?

By Lynda Searby , 20-Jul-2012

As You Sow, a US not-for-profit organisation that promotes environmental and social responsibility, has urged food and beverage producers to take responsibility for post-consumer packaging and tackle the nation’s dismal recycling and recovery record.

Writing in the report ‘Unfinished Business’, which was released yesterday, Conrad MacKerron, senior director of As You Sow, called for a mandatory ERP (extended producer responsibility) system, similar to the programmes already in place in the EU.

“In the last two years, momentum has been building for the introduction of EPR for packaging in the US,” MacKerron wrote, and said there were plans to introduce legislation in four or five states later this year or early in 2013.

“This has been driven by...deteriorating financial positions of states and municipalities, the economic value of wasted materials, growing awareness of the policy inequity of companies taking responsibility in other world markets but not in their US operations, growing demand for post-consumer materials, and links to climate footprint and ocean pollution.”

Stealth tax claims denied

Under EPR, brand owners or (for private label products) retailers, would be charged fees for packaging materials they bring to market, according to factors such as market share and recyclability of materials used. The funds raised would be spent on upgrading the nation’s recycling infrastructure.

But the scheme’s opponents argued that EPR would be yet another stealth tax, an attempt by a cash-strapped government to prop up state finances. MacKerron refutes these claims, pointing out that the proposal is for a producer-managed system.

He told FoodProductionDaily.com: “I think companies would be in favour if they realised that all proceeds from the fee system went towards improving recycling. The government would not administer the fees, that way they couldn’t hijack it.”

MacKerron said that producers would develop a non-profit producer responsibility organisation (PRO) to determine how to set fees for each packaging material. The PRO would contract with waste management companies, recycling facilities and municipalities to cover collection costs at negotiated rates.

State-level legislation needed

He insists however, that this could not be done on a voluntary basis, and that state-level legislation would be needed.

“It is important to understand that the European EPR laws were the result of failed attempts to develop voluntary programmes...Legislation is needed to set high, enforceable recycling targets and provide a level playing field for brands,” he wrote.

Nestlé Waters and Coca-Cola have already pledged their support to such a scheme, but elsewhere, the concept of EPR has met with resistance.

“While acknowledging they pay fees to recycle their packaging in scores of other countries, no major companies have immediately stepped forward to take similar responsibility in the US or to support Coca-Cola and Nestlé Waters’ call to action,” MacKerron wrote.

However, MacKerron told FoodProductionDaily that part of the problem was that they hadn’t really been engaged by anyone.

“The idea is to educate food and beverage producers on what the model legislation would look like, so by the time EPR is introduced there will be a draft that the industry agrees on,” he said.

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