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How eco-friendly products could fill store aisles under new state legislation

Scott Willis
Trash clean up

Onondaga County residents are diligent about recycling, but there’s a measure in the state budget before lawmakers that would make producers more accountable for product packaging. It’s called Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR). It has the support of agencies statewide that handle our recyclables but have had a hard time getting a good price for the material. That includes the Onondaga County Resource Recovery agency (OCRRA). Spokesperson Will Wallak said recycling markets are still vulnerable.

“By introducing EPR, making the structure a little more predictable, it’ll be good for everyone across the board.  Producers will be producing more eco-friendly packaging material.  For consumers, it’ll be clearer what is and isn’t recyclable, as well as those who process the material, it will allow for a more sustainable financial structure.” 

Recycling markets went into a tailspin about four years ago when China stopped accepting materials from the U.S. Wallak said the U.S. had to scramble to find new markets at home, and things have since stabilized. But OCRRA did have to spend $4 million of its reserves to cover the cost of recycling. He said many proactive brand owners are already reducing waste and incorporating recycled materials in their packaging, so he anticipates that EPR won’t lead to increased costs for consumers.

Waste from recycling center
Waste from recycling center

“Where EPR has been very well-established, provinces in Canada, across Europe and Asia, the research has shown that any price increase to consumers are zero or very negligible.” 

In the U.S., only Maine and Oregon have similar laws approved last summer. Wallak said if approved here, EPR holds a lot of promise.

“It’s been shown to vastly increase recycling rates.  By making producers responsible for the end life of their packaging, I think we’ll see some really good changes and enhancements to materials; how they’re recycled, what can be recycled.”   

Wallak said New York state already has smaller forms of producer responsibility in place, including batteries, electronics, and mercury thermostats. It’s not yet known if EPR will make it into the final state budget being debated as we speak.

Trash chute for plastics