Wednesday, July 18, 2012

NEW EPR REPORT: Americans throw away $11 billion dollars worth of packaging materials each year

By Matt Prindiville Associate Director

Our friends at As You Sow, a national non-profit organization, which “promotes environmental and social corporate responsibility through shareholder advocacy, coalition building, and innovative legal strategies,” just released a new report on extended producer responsibility (EPR) for packaging.  “Unfinished Business: The Case for Extended Producer Responsibility for Post-Consumer Packaging” reveals that the value of packaging materials that Americans throw in the trash totals around $11 billion dollars each year.  

Comprising more than 40% of the waste stream - and representing massive amounts of potentially avoided carbon emissions - America’s consumer packaging recycling rate of 48% (and 52% for paper and paperboard products) pales in comparison to countries with mature EPR programs that recycle more than 70% of their packaging.  What’s worse is that only 12.1% of plastic packaging is recycled, and more companies are turning to plastic materials for packaging due to lower costs.

Packaging materials are made from natural resources – trees, minerals, natural gas and oil – and require tremendous amounts of energy to produce from virgin feedstock.  As anyone can see from the plethora of recent documentary films around resource extraction, the mining, clear-cutting and drilling of these resources leaves a wake of ecological destruction behind.  

As Unfinished Business points out, “our locally controlled and taxpayer-funded recycling collection systems cannot effectively deal with the increasing volume and expanding array of packaging wastes. Saddled with projected deficits topping $100 billion, local governments cannot afford to invest in improving recycling systems.”  

Perhaps what is most striking about the report is the quantification of value of wasted packaging materials.  As the 2011 Tellus Report points out, we could grow 1.5 million new jobs in the United States by increasing our abysmal 34% recycling rate to 75%, already achieved in European countries with mature EPR initiatives.  We need to understand that when we toss our soda can instead of recycling it, we’re throwing American jobs in the garbage as well.  The corporations and companies that design and produce all our stuff – and all of the packaging that goes along with it – need to realize that by not participating in a solution to packaging waste, they will continue to be the primary source of the problem.  

Unfinished Business continues the drumbeat  for extended producer responsibility for packaging in the United States.  We agree with our friends at As You Sow, that EPR “will incentivize producers to reduce the amount of packaging they create, substantially increase recycling rates, provide much needed revenue to improve efficiency of recycling systems, reduce carbon footprint and energy use, and reclaim billions of dollars of embedded value now being buried in landfills or burned in waste incinerators.”

AYS has also released a very informative 3 minute video on EPR as well - - highly-recommended viewing.

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