Introduction to the Guide for EPR Proposals

2 EPR for packaging bills have passed in the U.S. this year (2021).

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What is EPR?

Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) is a policy approach that assigns producers responsibility for the end-of-life of products. This can include both financial responsibility and operational responsibility, though the amount and type may differ. Producers are required to provide funding and/or services that assist in managing covered products after the use phase.

Most EPR programs for packaging encourage or require producers of packaging products to join a collective producer responsibility organization (PRO), though many allow producers to comply individually. The PRO then develops a producer responsibility plan and manages the producer responsibility program. In some states, these components are referred to as a stewardship organization and stewardship plan. PROs are typically required to be nonprofit organizations, and a common approach is to allow for multiple PROs to operate within a single region’s EPR program.

white plastic bottle lot
Photo by Jonathan Chng

The financial structure may vary, but in most EPR programs producers pay fees to the PRO. The PRO then distributes the funds to cover the costs required by program legislation. Costs generally provide funding for the end-of-life management of covered products (collection, sortation, processing). Covered products are either defined in legislation or in the producer responsibility plan, and are the specific items or materials that must be managed within the program.

Many new bills and positions extend cost coverage to include outreach and education, infrastructure improvements, and end-market development for recycled materials. Organizations and policymakers are increasingly pointing to effective EPR as a necessary component of a comprehensive approach to addressing recycling challenges and concern over single-use product pollution.

Example of baled packaging waste - Photo by Vivianne Lemay

Purpose of the Guide

EPR for packaging and paper products is gaining attention in the United States. There are well-established EPR regulations for packaging in other regions of the world, particularly in the European Union and Canada. Although EPR programs exist in some states for products such as paint and electronics, there are no current regulations for packaging. However, movement on this type of legislation is accelerating, and more stakeholders are joining the conversation.

Bills to create EPR programs for packaging have been introduced at the state and federal level. Nonprofit organizations and trade associations are releasing policy positions in support of EPR or other financing systems. Not only is it hard to keep track of the new bills and policy positions, but it can be hard to make sense of them and how they differ. This guide breaks down the key elements of EPR policy and presents the proposals in an easy-to-understand way. The purpose of this guide is to help organizations identify the differences between the various proposals while also developing a deeper understanding of the components of EPR policy.

Not all policy positions included in this guide explicitly reference EPR. However, they each touch on elements of EPR and are worth comparing to see how the suggested financing mechanisms differ from other proposals and bills.

man writing on paper
Photo by Scott Graham

Elements of EPR

The breakdown below identifies key elements and the options within those elements that are present in various approaches. Each element is a key component of the policy, and the options within each element represent common ways that the element is implemented.

For example: The element Covered Products refers to the types of items that are required to be included within the producer responsibility program. Within that element are different options for categories of covered products, such as All Packaging Types, Paper Products, or Beverage Containers. The actual definition of these options vary by proposal and are explained in more detail on the individual bill or policy position page.

Some options are either/or, but most elements will include multiple options together. The absence of an option within a category does not mean that the program will not include that component, only that it was not included in the bill or position language. Many EPR proposals specify what should be included in the plan, but the details of the plan are left to be determined during development by the PRO.

Covered Products

Producer Exclusions

Structure/Type

Fee Structure

Additional Policy Levers

Enforcement

Recyclable / Recycling Definition

Covered Entities or End Users

Producer Responsibility Organization

Cost Coverage

Eco Modulation

Timelines

Education and Outreach

Other

Producer Definition

Targets

Social Considerations

Infrastructure

Structure/Type

Government Role

Stakeholder Involvement


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