Laws make producers of goods recycle them


Add this shorthand to your recycling vocabulary: EPR, for extended producer responsibility.

It’s the idea that the manufacturer of a consumer product is responsible for its ultimate disposal – the glass jar formerly packed with pickles, the once-fashionable shag rug, the antibiotic you didn’t need before root canal.

Already, more than 100 EPR laws are on the books across the country, says the Product Stewardship Institute, a Boston-based nonprofit that champions sustainable “end-of-life management” of consumer products. The laws cover 14 product areas, including electronics, pharmaceuticals, carpets, mattresses, batteries and paints.

New York is among the states with such laws – for electronic waste, rechargeable batteries and mercury thermostats. Pending the governor’s signature, room and building paints will be added to the list.

What EPR does is shift responsibility for recycling products and packaging from municipalities to producers; the laws make the shift mandatory.

“Producers are in the best position to recover materials, incorporate them back into the economy and minimize adverse impacts,” the Product Stewardship Institute says in a briefing paper on EPR issued in March with the New York Product Stewardship Council, a like-minded group in Albany.

EPR also can throw a lifeline to local recycling efforts, slammed when China, which had handled nearly half of the world’s recyclables, stopped taking them in.

Andrew Radin, director of recycling and waste reduction in Onondaga County in central New York, says the result has been a “recycling recession.” Whereas his Syracuse-area county netted more than $120,000 from recycling in 2017, he anticipates spending $2.5 million next year to keep recycling on track.

Onondaga County is not alone. Municipalities outside New York City’s five boroughs expect they’ll have to pay more than $59 million in 2020 to have 800,000 tons of curbside residential recycling materials sorted, baled and shipped to market, Radin stated in written testimony this week to a joint Senate-Assembly hearing on recycling.

The two houses’ standing committees on environmental conservation livestreamed the five-hour hearing from Manhattan on Monday, at which Radin and others appeared.

Some talked up EPR, as Radin did, wearing hats as a municipal recycler and as chairman of the New York Product Stewardship Council.

His testimony painted a grim picture for local recycling without short-term financial help from the state and a longer-term solution that includes EPR.

At the hearing, he offered a prop with his remarks to the lawmakers: packaging from a home-delivery meal-kit box, emblazoned with recycling symbols, that would not be recyclable in his county. Manufacturers may tell consumers to recycle product packaging, but there may not be local infrastructure in place to do so, he said.

“Product manufacturers should have some skin in this game. And currently, they do not,” Radin said in his written testimony. “…If packaging EPR is not the answer to $70/ton material-processing costs, I’m not sure what is.”

Marlene Kennedy is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in her column are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Reach her at [email protected]

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