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Guide to EPR Proposals

Packaging Legislation and Policy Positions

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.

Plastic bottles
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.

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

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EPR proposals specify the types of products covered under the program. These products must be defined, and the definitions typically include format type and material type.

  • All packaging types
  • Paper products
  • Material Specific
  • Beverage Containers
  • Exclusions

Producer Exclusions

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Most EPR plans have exclusions for entities that are not required to meet the defined producer requirements.

  • Small Businesses
  • Governments
  • Charities
  • Retailers

Structure/Type

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Bills and proposals vary in the degree to which producers assume financial and operational responsibility

  • Municipal Reimbursement (Financial Only)
  • Financial and Partial Operational
  • Financial with Municipal Contracts
  • Financial and Full Operational
  • Financial and Undetermined Operational

Fee Structure

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EPR proposals define how fees are assessed and charged to producers.

  • Fixed Rate
  • Product-Related
  • Modulated

Additional Policy Levers

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Many EPR proposals specify additional features to achieve EPR goals.

  • Deposit Refund System
  • Landfill Surcharges
  • Pay as You Throw Policies
  • Recycled Content Minimums
  • Mandatory Recycling
  • Product or Material Bans

Enforcement

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Many EPR bills specify how the program will be enforced.

  • Reporting requirements
  • Penalties

Recyclable/Recycling Definition

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Some EPR bills define what is considered recyclable and/or what is considered recycling. Proposals may also specify processes that cannot be considered recycling.

  • Defines "Recyclable"
  • Defines "Recycling"
  • Excludes advanced recycling

Covered Entities or End Users

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End-users, or entities, covered for collection by EPR proposals must be defined as well. Proposals may cover one or more of the following entities.

  • Household/residential
  • Government, institutional, or academic
  • Business or commercial
  • Industrial
  • Public Spaces

Producer Responsibility Organization

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Proposals specify whether producers are individually responsible or are required to join together to create a PRO. PROs vary in structure, and can be nonprofit or for-profit.

  • Individual Producer Responsibility
  • Collective Producer Responsibility
  • Individual Producer Responsibility Option
  • Non-Profit Requirement

Cost Coverage

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Funds collected via the EPR programs can cover a variety of costs. These costs are specified within the proposals, and some are more comprehensive than others.

  • Operational Costs
  • Education and Outreach
  • Administration
  • Litter Prevention
  • Market Development
  • Infrastructure Improvements

Eco-Modulation

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Incentivization of product design and material choices that favor reduced environmental impact.

  • Recycled Content
  • Life Cycle Emissions
  • Reuse
  • Light Weighting
  • Design
  • Recyclability
  • Renewably Sourced

Timelines

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Many bills specify timelines for policy implementation.

  • Deadline to register
  • Deadline to submit plan
  • Date of implementation
  • Transition period

Education and Outreach

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Whether education and outreach are covered is discussed in the cost section, but the requirements for implementation vary by proposal.

  • Product labeling
  • End-of-life instructions
  • Litter prevention campaigns
  • Program awareness
  • Shared responsibility of government and PRO
  • Program awareness

Other
‍‍

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Proposals may include additional notable considerations that do not fall under the above elements

Producer Definition

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EPR proposals define the producers to specify who is obligated under the plan or legislation.

  • Brands
  • Licensees
  • Importers/Distributors

Targets

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Specific targets may be specified in bills or proposals, or the type of targets required to be set in the plan may be directed.

  • Rate Targets
  • Recycled Content Targets
  • Material Specific Targets
  • Targets Set in Legislation
  • Adjustable Targets

Social Considerations

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Many EPR proposals specify social considerations to ensure equitable labor and management practices.

  • Labor Requirements
  • Community Outreach
  • Socially Just Management

Infrastructure

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Considerations for existing or improved infrastructure.

  • Maximizes Use of Existing Infrastructure
  • Convenience Standards
  • Infrastructure Improvements

Government Role

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The role of government in developing, administering, and monitoring EPR programs.

  • Plan review and approval
  • Enforcement and monitoring
  • Fund allocation

Stakeholder Involvement

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Many Proposals place heavy emphasis on involving stakeholders in the program.

  • Required consultation during plan development
  • Stakeholder Advisory Committee

Coming Soon

The interactive Guide to EPR Proposals will break down and compare the various bills and policy positions by element. Look for an announcement when the guide launches!