By Saabira Chaudhuri
Who should pay to recycle discarded cereal boxes, drinks bottles
and detergent containers?
The makers of such products have long fought efforts to make
them pay for the cost of dealing with packaging waste. Now, trade
groups that represent companies like Procter & Gamble Co. and
PepsiCo Inc. are softening that stance, as consumers become more
concerned about plastic waste and municipalities struggle to cover
the costs of their recycling programs.
Federal and state lawmakers in the U.S. are proposing bills to
push companies to pick up the tab for managing empty soda bottles,
candy wrappers, cereal boxes and other packaging they use. Such
rules could help pay for curbside collection and sorting
infrastructure, and spur companies to design packaging that is
easier to recycle, lawmakers say.
Charging companies "puts the financial burden of plastic
pollution back on the manufacturers who generate it and profit from
it," said Sen. Tom Udall (D., N.M.), who this year introduced a
bill that would make companies pay to collect and process waste.
Several states including Massachusetts, New York and Washington are
considering similar measures.
Packaging has become more complex of late, often being a mix of
materials such as aluminum layered with different plastics to make
baby and pet-food pouches. Most recycling facilities can't handle
these. Also, a 2018 ban on waste imports by China, historically the
biggest buyer of used plastic from the U.S., created a glut of
recyclables with nowhere to go. Ninety two recycling programs have
been eliminated in the U.S. since late 2017, according to the
Recycling Partnership, a nonprofit.
Covid-19 has exacerbated the problem. Single-use plastic volumes
have jumped just as cities and towns face budget shortfalls, and
recycling streams are more contaminated as household waste
displaces the cleaner material that typically comes from offices
and businesses. U.S. residential recycling programs are collecting
at least 7% more waste than last year, according to the Solid Waste
Association of North America.
Against that backdrop -- and the threat of potential bans on
some plastic packaging -- consumer-goods industry groups say they
are more willing to help pay for recycling services that they have
long argued were the responsibility of governments.
"We will actively support policy proposals that require industry
funding, " said Dan Felton, executive director of Ameripen, a lobby
group set up by companies including Coca-Cola Co. and
Colgate-Palmolive Co. about a decade ago in the face of a mounting
wave of legislation aimed at cutting plastic waste.
The Consumer Brands Association also says it would support
per-item fees on packaging provided the money is used to improve
recycling. The trade body, whose members include P&G, Pepsi and
General Mills Inc., had previously questioned the merits of such
"We recognize these systems in America have been chronically
underfunded for a decade or more and can't handle the types of
packaging in use today," said Meghan Stasz, the association's head
Mars Inc. and Unilever PLC are among companies that have said
they would support so-called extended producer responsibility rules
as part of their broader efforts to reduce plastic waste and use
more recycled material in their packaging.
Brand owners have long paid toward the cost of managing their
packaging waste in parts of Canada and Europe, and more recently
have done so in big emerging markets like India. Companies either
pay for packaging recycling programs through umbrella organizations
or reimburse municipalities directly. Fees are based on the weight
of packaging sold, but also account for the cost of recycling items
and the resale value of materials.
In the U.S., manufacturers pay toward waste management for just
a handful of items, such as paint, batteries and mattresses.
Advocates say such measures boost recycling rates. In Germany,
where companies have had to pay toward managing packaging waste
since the early '90s, the recycling rate for municipal solid waste
stood at 67% in 2018, according to government data. By contrast,
the U.S. rate is 25% based on 2017 data -- the latest available --
from the Environmental Protection Agency.
Scott Cassel heads the Product Stewardship Institute, a
nonprofit that lobbies for companies to cover waste-management
costs. He says for the first time he has had "very productive
discussions" with the flexible-packaging industry about a potential
model bill for states.
In June, a House climate-change panel called on Congress to
adopt extended producer responsibility among other policies with
the aim of making the U.S. carbon-neutral by 2050.
But governments, waste companies and brand owners can't agree on
how much the product makers should pay and how such rules would
work in practice.
A proposed bill in Maine that called on companies to help pay
for managing packaging waste could have cost brand owners between
$14 million and $16 million a year, according to the state's
environment department. The bill failed this year but is expected
to be reintroduced in 2021.
The Udall bill, introduced to Congress in February, proposes
that companies bear the entire cost of handling their used
packaging. It also asks them to design and run programs to collect
and process the waste. Mr. Cassel says most states he is advising
on the matter want brand owners to pick up the entire tab.
By contrast, the Recycling Partnership, a nonprofit funded by
companies including Nestle SA and Target Corp., argues for shared
costs between brand owners and taxpayers. Under its proposal,
taxpayers' contribution would be bolstered by payments from
commercial and industrial waste generators.
The Consumer Brands Association also says brand owners shouldn't
be saddled with the entire cost of dealing with their waste.
"We do not want a scenario where any one industry or stakeholder
bears all financial or operational responsibility," said Ms. Stasz.
"Everybody has a role to play here."
Write to Saabira Chaudhuri at firstname.lastname@example.org
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
December 05, 2020 08:14 ET (13:14 GMT)
Copyright (c) 2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.