This story is the part of a series on trends shaping the U.S. waste and recycling industry in 2022.
Last year’s state legislative season was packed with high-profile bills meant to tackle some of recycling’s biggest pain points: low recycling rates, stretched funding for infrastructure and education, fluctuating commodity prices and the proliferation of single-use plastics. 2022 brings many of the same bills, but legislators hope to catch some momentum from 2021's successes.
Recycling packaging legislation had a "breakthrough" in 2021, said Susan Collins, president of the Container Recycling Institute, during a webinar on bottle bill legislation last month.
Anja Malawi Brandon, a plastic policy analyst for the Ocean Conservancy, also believes the public is more eager for changes to recycling programs than in years past.
“I expect the number of bills to grow this year as the public gets more and more frustrated with single-use packaging and is demanding action at the state level," she said.
Movement on federal recycling bills is uncertain, so many experts are focusing on what measures they think state legislatures can pass this year. Extended producer responsibility programs for packaging are top of mind for many in the industry. More brands have recently voiced support for certain EPR models after years of resistance, but stakeholder opinions differ over how much control producers or municipalities should have in implementing such programs and how effective they might be in curbing pollution and improving recycling systems. Container deposit bills, also called bottle bills, will likely face legislative hurdles in several states this year due to competing interests among the beverage industry, MRFs and environmentalists.
States are expected to move a variety of bills banning certain single-use plastics. Environmental groups say these laws are needed to reduce pollution, but the plastics industry says they unfairly target needed products. Experts also think more mandatory minimum recycled content bills could get introduced, especially after the success of New Jersey’s recent passage of its law, which establishes recycled content requirements starting in 2024 for certain packaging and bans polystyrene packing peanuts.
Here are some of the highlights of the state legislative season so far. Got updates? Reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org.
EPR for packaging is still the policy to watch
Implementing EPR for packaging is a top state recycling policy strategy in 2022. Some policymakers say the success of new EPR for packaging bills in Maine and Oregon last year could help push new bills over the finish line, even in states that unsuccessfully introduced similar legislation in 2021. So far this year, more than eight states have introduced or have plans to introduce such legislation. Last year, more than a dozen states offered up EPR for packaging proposals.
Bills this year present a spectrum of different EPR approaches. Some direct producers to take more operational responsibility — and give them more decision-making power over how to implement the program — while others propose more of a municipal-control model with reimbursements to local recycling programs for operational costs related to managing packaging at its end of life.
EPR can be complex, but Jeff Mauk, executive director for the National Caucus of Environmental Legislators (NCEL), said legislators are starting to get a deeper understanding of how different EPR models work and what it could mean for their constituents’ recycling systems, thus they may be more receptive to introducing or voting in favor of such legislation than in years past. They’re also coordinating with each other more frequently and sharing proposed bill language, he said.
In December, NCEL led a policy strategy session for lawmakers, which Mauk said resulted in conversations on how to implement “bold and ambitious” EPR policies that can be adapted by other states “and perhaps the federal government as well,” he added in a statement announcing the session. The session built on the launch last year of an EPR for Packaging Network, an NCEL-facilitated group of lawmakers who have introduced or plan to introduce EPR legislation.
State legislatures will likely borrow from each other’s bill language more and more in the coming years, said Sydney Harris, policy and programs manager at the nonprofit Product Stewardship Institute. “There’s the sense [from legislators] that EPR seems more feasible now, and they can easily take these bills, sometimes even off the shelf, and can tweak it to do a version that works for [their] state,” she said.
Recycling industry groups such as NWRA have said they prefer EPR programs that help improve end markets for recycled commodities and allow state and local governments to retain control over their recycling programs. In some states, MRFs and haulers have voiced concerns that new EPR laws could disrupt their longtime contractual relationships.
Colorado will soon introduce a bipartisan EPR bill which is modeled directly on New York’s EPR proposal, according to Kate Bailey, policy and research director for nonprofit recycler Eco-Cycle, who is monitoring the bill’s development.
The bill would create a producer funded and operated EPR system for certain packaging, and the bill will also likely include "some recycled content components," she said. The Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment spent the last year studying other states' EPR strategies, and Bailey said bill sponsors solicited comments through an “extensive stakeholder process” to fit the bill to Colorado's unique recycling needs.
In New York, EPR is being approached from two different strategies. One is through bill S.1185C, sponsored by state Sen. Todd Kaminsky. He first introduced the bill last year, but it was not able to gather broad enough support.
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul is also pursuing EPR legislation by including it in her executive budget, calling for the program to start as early as 2026. As in Kaminsky’s bill, producers would either have to comply with the EPR law individually or join a producer responsibility organization (PRO). Producers would propose details of how they would cover program costs and reimburse municipalities or other participating service providers.
However, during a hearing last Wednesday hosted by the Solid Waste Advisory Boards of the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan and Queens, several groups voiced concerns that the bill’s PRO model gives too much power to large corporations that don’t have incentives to reduce pollution.
More states also aim to gain traction on bills they’ve introduced in years past, such as in Maryland, where Del. Brooke Lierman is again introducing her EPR bill, HB 307, with state Sen. Malcolm Augustine leading the companion bill, SB 292. A version of this bill failed to pass in 2021.
The bill would require producers of certain packaging products to submit a “stewardship plan” to the Maryland Department of Environment by April 1, 2024, and they would be prohibited from selling those products without approval by October 2024. The bill also leaves open the possibility for PROs to consider establishing a deposit return system to increase recycling rates. In a statement, Lierman touted the EPR program’s ability to create “a way that producers, local governments, and sustainability advocates can all work together" to reduce waste and beef up recycling systems.
Other states with active EPR for packaging plans include the following:
- Hawaii: HB 2399, led by Rep. Nicole Lowen, would require producers of some “fast-moving consumer goods” to register with the state Department of Health and pay an annual fee based on the volume of packaging the producer puts into the market each year. The bill also calls for reducing the volume of packaging waste sent to landfills by 50% and the volume sent to power plants that burn municipal solid waste as a fuel by 80%. Lowen, who introduced a similar bill last year, said EPR is one way to stop "treating the Earth as both a boundless source of virgin resources and as a bottomless landfill.”
- Illinois: HB 4258, led by Rep. Dagmara Avelar, would direct the state Environmental Protection Agency to select and contract with a packaging stewardship organization to operate the statewide program. Producers of some packaging would not be allowed to sell or distribute its items in the state without approval, and participating municipalities would be reimbursed by the stewardship organization for managing certain packaging. Avelar said the bill was created using feedback from “a diverse group of stakeholders.”
- Kentucky: HB 108, from Rep. Jeffery Donohue and Rep. Mary Lou Marzian, would create the Kentucky Packaging Stewardship Program and require producers to be responsible for end-of-life management of certain packaging, including the costs of disposal and recycling. The bill also would set waste reduction targets and minimum recycled content standards, and it calls for a state waste characterization study.
- Massachusetts: H878 for packaging and paper products, led by Rep. Michael Day, would require most producers to join a PRO and create a plan for administering the EPR program and using funds for recycling infrastructure, public education, or other efforts. The state's Department of Environmental Protection would oversee the program.
- New Jersey: A1444, introduced by Assembly members James Kennedy and Raj Mukherji, would require producers to “remain responsible for managing and facilitating the collection, transportation, reuse, and recycling or disposal of all discarded packaging products in the state.” Producers would also need to increase the amount of postconsumer recycled content in their packaging products over time until single-use packaging contains at least 75% postconsumer content by Jan. 1, 2027. Sen. Bob Smith leads a parallel bill in the Senate.
- Vermont: S. 236, led by Sen. Christoper Bray and Sen. Virginia Lyons, would address paper and packaging as well as single-use food serviceware. Starting Jan. 1, 2025, producers would be held responsible for the collection and recycling of certain packaging and would need to be part of an approved stewardship organization and meet certain other requirements to sell their packaging items in the state. The stewardship organization would be responsible for coming up with the plan for how to run the program and make reimbursements.
Despite a strong start for those 2022 EPR efforts, two other state bills quickly died after failing to make it out of committee.
One is Washington’s RENEW Act, SB 5697, Senator Mona Das’s EPR bill that also would have required producers achieve recycling and reuse targets and use recycled content in new products and packaging.
The bill's many components, plus waste industry opposition, were contributing factors to why the bill couldn’t make traction, said Heather Trim, executive director of Zero Waste Washington, which had named the bill as its top priority early in the legislative season. “We knew it was a big lift,” she said.
Meanwhile, several EPR proposals in Virginia, including HB 647, failed to pass out of subcommittee due to concerns over costs, though a state recycling task force could further examine the issue, the Virginia Mercury reported.
Bottle bill battles continue
Though EPR is capturing plenty of lawmaker bandwidth, several states are working to advance updates to existing state container deposit systems or to launch brand-new programs. During a bottle bill seminar in January hosted by the Container Recycling Institute, supporters from Massachusetts and Vermont expressed optimism that they might be able to push forward improvements after years of roadblocks.
Connecticut passed a rare update to its bottle bill last year, signaling that momentum could help move other states’ updates forward, said Susan Collins, president of CRI. Many bottle bills were written decades ago and don’t cover the variety of beverages available today. Market and recycling infrastructure woes have spurred bottle bill proponents to push for modernizing the system to capture more materials, she said.
In Massachusetts, S.2149, led by Sen. Cynthia Stone Creem, would raise the deposit value from 5 cents to 10 cents and would expand the covered container list to include almost all beverage bottles and cans up to 3 liters.
The state redemption rate is “a tragedy” at 43%, said Kirstie Pecci, director of the Zero Waste Project at the Boston-based Conservation Law Foundation, during the CRI webinar. Massachusetts has struggled to modernize its container deposit system for years, she said, but recent action from groups such as the newly-formed, bipartisan Zero Waste Caucus — a group of legislators interested in recycling and waste legislation — is one factor that helped the bill gain broader support.
Supporters in Vermont are working to pass H. 175, sponsored by Rep. James McCullough. The bill would significantly expand the state’s bottle bill by covering almost all beverages, including water, wine, sports drinks and hard cider. The bill also aims to increase handling fees for non-commingled containers in redemption centers. It passed the House last April and could soon be considered in the Senate.
Paul Burns, executive director for the Vermont Public Interest Research Group, said strong support will be needed in the Senate to help avoid a veto if the bill passes. Vermont Governor Phil Scott is close with the waste industry, particularly with major state hauler Casella Waste Systems, which historically has opposed the bill, he said during the webinar.
In Iowa, lawmakers have proposed updating the state's bottle bill to increase handling fees from 1 cent to 2 cents, a move supported by redemption centers but opposed by grocers, the Iowa Capital Dispatch reports.
New Hampshire aimed to establish a brand-new beverage container deposit recycling program with Rep. Timothy Egan’s H.B.1652, but a House committee this week recommended the bill go through an interim study process, saying the bill as written had not taken into account "a number of factors in New Hampshire’s solid waste infrastructure." The bill would have covered most kinds of beverages in glass, plastic and aluminum containers, establishing a 10-cent deposit value. Egan told local news site Ink Link that the bill would help increase recycling and curb trash, particularly garbage he says is dumped in more rural areas of the state. The bill faced opposition from the New Hampshire Grocers Association and others who believed a new bottle bill would be disruptive and bad for business.
Singling out single-use bans
The “big bills” that tackle fundamental changes to state waste and recycling systems, like EPR and bottle bills, can be tough to pass because they require legislative heavy lifting as well as buy-in from a broad variety of stakeholders across the entire value chain, Trim of Zero Waste Washington said. For a possibly lighter lift, some states are chipping away at waste issues through common bills like plastics bans.
Environment America and other advocacy groups have named single-use plastic bans among their ongoing state legislative priorities, and a variety of states have bills on the books targeting single-use items the bills say are likely to cause pollution or cannot be easily recycled. However, some plastic producers oppose such legislation, saying it unfairly targets their industry, while groups like the Association of Plastic Recyclers favors bills that boost recycling infrastructure over bills with specific plastic resin bans, saying bans don’t solve long-term recycling problems.
- Colorado: The state is expected to introduce a “skip the stuff” bill directing restaurants to provide plastic food service ware only upon request, the Colorado Sun reported.
- California: AB 1690 aims to reduce litter caused by single-use vape pens and cigarette filters by transitioning sales toward reusable/chargeable models.
- Hawaii: HB1645 would require hotels and some other types of lodging to replace “single-use toiletries” with bulk dispensers. The bill is similar to one that passed in New York last year.
- Rhode Island: H 7063 would ban food service establishments from providing food or beverages in packaging made with polystyrene foam.
- Rhode Island: H 7065 aims for a single-use plastic bag ban, but the Providence Journal reports that this repeatedly-introduced bill has yet to gain traction since it was first introduced in 2013.
Other bills to watch
- Purchasing recycled-content products: California’s AB 661 would require the state to purchase products made with recycled materials, if such products are available, “without regard to cost.”
- Recyclable products: Another California bill, SB 54 , would require all single-use disposable packaging, including food service packaging, to be recyclable or compostable by January 2032. This bill was tabled last year, but is moving again after being passed out of committee in January.
- Chemical recycling: Kentucky’s chemical recycling bill would classify chemical recycling facilities, sometimes called advanced recycling facilities, as manufacturers instead of waste disposal facilities. Versions of this bill, which the American Chemistry Council has backed in each state, passed in Virginia and numerous other states in the last few years. A version of this bill has also shown up in the West Virginia state legislature this year, according to the Charleston Gazette-Mail.
This story has been updated to reflect the new status of the New Hampshire bottle bill proposal and correct specific attribution to New York solid waste advisory boards.