Monday, August 26, 2013

New AMERIPEN Report Passes the Buck on Sustainable Financing for Recycling

By Matt Prindiville, Associate Director

Last week, I heard from a colleague that AMERIPEN (the American Institute for Packaging and the Environment) was releasing a new report analyzing strategies to increase the recovery of post-consumer packaging in the United States.  AMERIPEN is a trade association, representing approximately 30 companies, most of which are large, international consumer-packaged goods corporations like Proctor & Gamble, General Mills, Kraft and Pepsico.  This morning, AMERIPEN released their report Analysis of Strategies and Financial Platforms to Increase the Recovery of Used Packaging.”

The central goals of the paper are “to identify strategies and financing mechanisms used across the globe that are the most effective and efficient in recovering packaging waste and addressing financing challenges of collection, sorting, and transportation.”  The report walks through an analysis of a series of seven strategies to increase recovery of packaging.  In most cases, the analysis is good, highlighting the strengths and challenges of each approach.  In some cases as in the example of landfill surcharges, the report also provides commentary on the political feasibility of a given strategy.  In others, the analysis falls short, such as the section parroting flawed beverage-industry talking points against container deposits.  

Five of the strategies are generally delivered or mandated by government, usually local government:  Disposal Bans, Mandatory Recycling, Pay As You Throw (unit-based pricing), Advance Recycling/Disposal Fees, and Landfill Surcharges.  The other two strategies require industry to play a leading role:  Extended Producer Responsibility and Container Deposits (a form of EPR if industry manages the program). 

Not surprisingly, in the conclusion on pages 33-34, the report recommends that policy makers pursue policies implemented by local government at taxpayer expense: Pay-As-You-Throw, mandatory recycling requirements and disposal bans on recyclable packaging.  These policies require no investment by any of AMERIPEN’s member companies.  Regardless of efficacy, they summarily reject policies like extended producer responsibility (including container deposits), which require financial and/or management commitments from the companies that make up AMERIPEN’s board.

This is not to say that PAYT, recycling requirements and disposal bans aren’t good policy.  These are mostly proven strategies among a suite of necessary and useful policies to increase recycling; and they deserve support.  But without industry-financing, the costs for improving packaging recycling falls squarely on taxpayers, ratepayers and local governments, which in today’s climate means these ideas are unlikely to be pursued at a scale necessary to address the problem of widespread packaging waste.  

Unfortunately, the AMERIPEN report ultimately falls short on its promise of addressing the challenge of “balancing the need for sustainable funding of packaging waste recovery with the need to improve the efficiency of the system in order to increase material recovery.”  It completely passes the buck on industry responsibility for any financing or administration of recycling programs to meet the two challenges of sustainable financing and greater system efficiency, both of which are solved by extended producer responsibility.  

The irony is that nearly all of the AMERIPEN companies already participate in EPR-packaging systems throughout Europe, and will soon do the same for every province in Canada.  The European EPR programs are even praised by the same type of trade association representing the same companies in the EU.  

Our advice to AMERIPEN is the same that we gave to the Grocery Manufacturers Association after they released their anti-EPR report last year. Rather than fighting what its members already do in 47 other countries, AMERIPEN companies could work to create superior producer-led EPR systems in the U.S., develop predictable supplies of raw materials, and earn positive public recognition from assuming this level of corporate social responsibility.   
That wouldn’t be passing the buck.  It would be rising to the challenge.

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