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Blog March 2023

Extended Producer Responsibility is going global – what it means for your recycling and waste company

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Conor Dowd

AMCS Global Head of Marketing

EPR (Extended Producer Responsibility) is a term you might have heard much more often recently. 

It has been around for a while, especially for those dealing with waste electrical and electronic products and batteries.

But increasingly, countries around the world are rolling out EPR for packaging and this is likely to have big implications for waste and recycling companies, including how collections and recycling are funded. 

EPR is often bound up with the Circular Economy. Because producers of waste (typically manufacturers, retailers, and importers of goods) are paying for the collection, sorting, and recycling of materials, they are therefore given an incentive to make products easier to recycle. EPR is often combined with incentives to ensure packaging manufacturers use more recycled content.

An EPR study by the Recycling Partnership, posited that such programs for packaging and printed paper could create ‘nearly universal’ recycling access in the US, boosting residential recycling rates and creating more funding for recycling programs. 

For waste and recycling companies, EPR should lead to better quality recyclate as simple-to-recycle materials will be used in packaging, this should require less sorting, and there should be more value in recycled content.

However, some rollouts of EPR may also see central recycling and waste contracts issued by organizations set up to administer schemes. Some of these may even own the material. This could have an impact on the current, free trade arrangements seen in many countries.

But EPR is not just about packaging, and some countries are rolling it out across all sorts of products to cover many types of consumer and industrial goods. 

United States

While there is no legislation on EPR at Federal level yet, some States are forging their own trail, and more are expected to follow.

In July 2021, Maine became the first US state to introduce a packaging producer responsibility law. 

It is still early days for this law and has not been fully implemented yet and is not likely to be until 2026. But those who create packaging waste, must pay for its disposal and recycling. Maine’s Department of Environmental Protection is responsible and will award a 10-year contract to set up a Producer Responsibility Organization (PRO).

Producers will fund 100% of Maine’s existing recycling system with the PRO specifying the fees for producers based on criteria such as use of recycled content in packaging, recycling rates and more. 

The PRO is likely to fund new recycling infrastructure in Maine also.

Oregon’s EPR law was published only a few weeks after Maine and will come into force in July 2025. Oregon has opted for an expansion of its current system, so producers will provide funding for about 30% of residential and commercial recycling.

Like Maine, Oregon will introduce a PRO, but there will potentially be more than one for the packaging, printed paper, plastic, and food service ware sectors that will be included in its EPR scheme.

There will also be a 17-member advisory council to Oregon’s Department of Environmental Quality and PROs that will enable various stakeholders, including the recycling industry, to contribute to providing recommendation on the scheme.

Colorado will introduce a single PRO for its EPR scheme that includes all consumer packaging and printed paper. From July 2025, producers will be compelled to join the scheme. 

The PRO in Colorado will have more responsibility than those in Maine and Oregon including the ability to directly contract recycling service providers, haulers, processors, and local governments that provide recycling services. 

These recycling and waste services will be 100% funded by waste producers. 

California will start its EPR system with a single PRO in January 2027 but may allow others after 2030. 

Its packaging producer responsibility law encompasses single-use packaging for all materials and plastic food service ware. 

All materials used in California that will be covered by EPR must be recyclable or compostable by 2032. Producers must also reduce packaging and service ware materials by 25% by weight and 25% by plastic components by the same year.

PRO will pay $500 million each year for at least ten years into the California Plastic Pollution Mitigation Fund and this will come from 100% cost being placed on producers. 

California will also have an advisory board that will work with Cal Recycle and the PRO to review recycling rates and progress of the scheme.

Other States are also looking to introduce EPR. For example, New York Governor Kathy Hochul has said she intends to introduce an EPR bill in 2023.

Canada

In 2021, Canada introduced new EPR laws that need to be implemented by its states. These include EPR rules for tyres, batteries, electronic products, packaging and printed paper, beverage containers and hazardous products. 

The laws in Canada have shifted the model from product stewardship (funded typically by government) to EPR. From 2021 onwards, each state in Canada has been developing its rules to implement EPR across the above categories, with most engaging in the legislative process in 2022 with more detail likely to appear throughout 2023. 

Europe

France is a leader on the Circular Economy and EPR after introducing its Anti-Waste and Circular Economy (AGEC) Law in 2018. This law contains fifty objectives for the transition from a linear production model to a circular model and includes a roadmap for this transition.

Each part of the roadmap contains obligations, fiscal incentives and penalties that are placed on those who manufacture goods.

Financing for the objectives of this law comes from Government, EPR schemes and industry contributions. 

From 1 January 2023, the largest producers of waste will need to comply, with medium-sized companies complying from 2024 and smaller companies in 2025. 

Under this law, eleven new product categories are included in EPR including tobacco products, toys, building and construction products and cars. 

Existing EPR schemes on household packaging, electricals, cars, and other products have been reformed to align with the objectives of the law, especially with a focus on eco-design and repair/reuse. In fact, France now has twenty-two categories of goods that are subject to EPR.

From 1 January 2022, building sector materials had to be sorted, reused, and recovered and this will be the same across many other categories.

All sectors under EPR must produce five-year plans on eco-design. 

Under the new EPR laws, products that use recycled content and are recyclable or reusable have financial benefits, whereas those that pollute are financially penalised.

However, one of the big criticisms of the way that the French system operates is that waste is managed by Producer Responsibility Organizations (PRO). The producers pay a modulated fee to these private companies depending on how difficult the material is to manage. 

Some sectors only have one PRO (packaging, paper), while others have more than one (WEEE, batteries).

Many waste management companies in France do not like that the PRO is responsible for managing the waste under its scheme. This is because the PRO issues contracts for operators to collect, transport, sort and recycle this waste. This creates a situation where the PRO is all powerful, especially if there is only one PRO for the material. 

The recent AGEC law brought in more rules to encourage competition including non-discrimination clauses, separate lots to allow more SMEs to bid and PROs (effectively the producers) will have to absorb fluctuations in raw material prices, and not the waste processing operators. 

UK (United Kingdom)

In 2018, the UK developed its Resources & Waste Strategy and a big part of this was getting producers of waste to pay for the costs of collection, sorting, and recycling of materials.

The UK is still undergoing the process of developing EPR but will end up with a comprehensive scheme for packaging if all goes as planned. Other non-packaging sectors not currently covered by EPR may face similar proposals later in the decade. 

Producers will pay the cost of all collections, sorting, and recycling of household packaging most from 2024. The UK will also ensure consistency of collection so that each household around the country can put the same materials in their recycling bins and containers wherever they live. Manufacturers will also need to use a core set of materials that are easily recyclable so that these can be labelled to show which receptacle the packaging needs to go into. Those producers that do not use simple materials, will need to pay a modulated fee that pays for recycling and treatment.

For UK recycling and waste management companies, this should lead to higher quality recyclate and easier sorting. With local government also receiving much of the EPR funding, there should also be more tenders to bid for to develop recycling infrastructure in local areas. 

The UK Government previously said that EPR would lead to the creation of business waste zones where waste contractors would need to bid to service collections from these zones and a central organisation would potentially own all the material. However, following outcry from the recycling and waste sector, a review will now take place in 2026/7 on how producers should pay for business waste collections. Until then, the existing free market arrangements will remain in place. 

Germany

Germany has had EPR on packaging since 1991 and these rules have been amended many times since. Obligated producers and distributors of sales packaging must take part in the dual system (approved compliance scheme) whose operating scope is linked to the country’s local authorities for approval, and the collection of waste. 

But it is being proposed to change these EPR rules and extend the scope to include non-packaging products made from metal, plastics, or metal/plastic composites. Producers selling these goods in Germany would have to contribute to the financing of the collection and recycling of them. 

There will also be new rules across EPR that set recycling rates to incentivize the recyclability of materials and reduce materials in weight (packaging and non-packaging). 

Germany is expected to introduce a central management authority that may end up leading to the abolition of the dual systems for compliance. 

It is also introducing new laws that increase the EPR penalties for those that produce single-use plastics.

Ireland

Ireland launched its Waste Action Plan for the Circular Economy in 2021. This includes a target for mandatory EPR for all packaging producers before the 2024 EU (European Union) deadline. Producers will be liable for eco modulation of fees, and all packaging must be reusable or recyclable by 2030.

It will also standardize bins across the country and introduce recycling targets for waste collectors. There will also be environmental levies for waste recovery and single use coffee cups to encourage recycling and reuse. 

EPR will require digitalization 

While the pace and form of EPR legislation and adoption varies by territory, investment will be required in digitalization to track material flows, understand their composition and to facilitate collaboration between producers, consumers, and recycling companies. A key enabling technology will be the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) to increase transparency in material flows and to measure composition and quality. 

AMCS is a long-term champion and enabler of EPR programs in Europe and beyond. Our AMCS Platform solution is used by recyclers in all aspects of EPR from collections, quality monitoring, reporting and collaboration between stakeholders.

Learn more about the AMCS Platform here. 

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