The US Environmental Protection Agency has set a target for increasing recycling rates to 50% by 2030—an ambitious goal that will require meaningful, real change to address the way the US recycles and the state of recycling in the country today. But the good news is that there is a tangible solution at our fingertips, and one that works for both people and the planet: Extended Producer Responsibility, also known as EPR.
EPR is a program that is designed to reframe how recycling systems are funded and managed. Right now, the burden falls on individuals to sort household waste for recycling and on communities to fund and operate recycling programs. Under EPR, this responsibility is transferred to the companies that use these materials for their products and packaging. This responsibility would incentivize companies to keep the materials in the system, transforming not only the way the US recycles, but also the way we create, use, and reuse plastic and other packaging.
How does this transformation happen? Under this program, each packaging producer must pay a fee based on how much material they produce and how much it costs to collect, sort, and recycle that material. These fees are used to fund and expand recycling, supply recycled content, and identify and eliminate materials and packages that don’t get recycled. EPR also incentivizes producers to remove packaging that is easily littered or can’t be recycled by assessing additional fees. Importantly, producers are held to standards for system performance and government and public oversight.
EPR improves the recycling system, enabling used products and packages to become new products and packages, and mandates private sector investment in recycling systems. It is an important tool—along with reducing problematic plastics and increasing reusables—for keeping plastic out of nature. That’s why environmentalists, companies, and local policymakers alike all support national and state EPR as a key step to improving our country’s recycling system.