Understanding What it Means to be a Responsible Producer
By: Heidi Brock
This year, Maine and Oregon were the first states in the nation to pass legislation creating Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) programs for paper and packaging. Programs that if not implemented with care could have significant and adverse effects on highly recycled materials, like paper.
As we look ahead to 2022, there are potentially other states and jurisdictions that will consider EPR approaches that could have negative consequences for the paper and wood products industry.
Our industry has long been committed to an effective and efficient system for paper recycling and policies should recognize this.
EPR programs may be an effective policy solution for products that are difficult to collect or process, have low recycling rates or where healthy end markets do not exist.
However, none of these conditions apply to paper or paper-based packaging. Our industry creates sustainable paper products used every day by millions of people, making paper one of the most widely recycled materials in the world.
Furthermore, EPR programs should not be a singular, comprehensive answer, but part of a broad-based solution. A solution where the responsibilities of all stakeholders are properly attributed and fulfilled, and all material types bear a fair share.
In fact, producer responsibility is something we are already doing and have been focused on for years. And significant success has occurred—success that has been voluntary and market-driven.
AF&PA has concerns about policy approaches that would disrupt the success of paper recycling, which currently delivers recycled products to the hands of consumers in a highly efficient and market-based approach.
Paper recycling is a success for many reasons, and notably, because of consumer education, the wide availability of recycling programs, and significant industry investment. That investment has occurred in everything from collection programs to making products more sustainable and circular.
Every year since 2009, the recycling rate for paper has met or exceeded 63%. Take a moment to consider that the paper recovered for recycling in the U.S. in 2020 alone would fill nearly 4,000 Washington Monuments.
Furthermore, 66% of paper used in the U.S. was recycled last year, including nearly 89% of all cardboard boxes and corrugated containers.
Recovered fiber is a critical feedstock for our mills—AF&PA members own 114 materials recovery facilities (MRFs) around the country. We also continue to make significant and important investments in recycling, including building new markets for increased utilization of recycled paper fibers.
Our industry has announced investments by 2023 aimed at increasing the consumption of recovered paper by U.S. paper and paperboard mills by 25% compared to 2020. No other industry is developing markets for recycled materials at that rate or scale.
From cereal boxes to paper towels, or the e-commerce box that lands on your doorstep, so many paper products include recycled content.
However, EPR schemes and recycled content mandates for paper products could make recovered paper markets costly and less efficient.
The bottom line is we do not want anything to disrupt the industry’s achievements in paper recycling. Your voice and engagement will be essential in the year ahead. We need you to help share the good news and success of paper recycling.
Whether it is reaching out to an elected representative, hosting a mill tour for community leaders, signing up for our grassroots alerts on our website or joining our industry in policy conversations at the state level, each of us has a role to play in staying informed, building relationships and advocating for the environmental success story that is paper recycling.
We need policymakers to seek out our industry and bring us into conversations about EPR programs. We need them to understand the opportunities and consequences of their policy decisions. We need our industry to speak with a united voice to be heard. And we need to work together as we advance and build upon the long-held success of paper recycling.