The simple way to make companies responsible for their waste? Make the

Native governments throughout the U.S. deal with waste administration, funding it by way of taxes and consumer charges. Till 2018, the U.S. exported large portions of recyclable supplies, primarily to China. Then China banned most international scrap imports. Different recipient international locations like Vietnam adopted go well with, triggering waste disposal crises in wealthy nations.

Some U.S. states have legal guidelines that make producers responsible for significantly hard-to-manage merchandise, akin to electronic waste, car batteries, mattresses, and tires, when these items attain the finish of their helpful lives.

Now, Maine and Oregon have enacted the first state legal guidelines making companies that create shopper packaging, akin to cardboard cartons, plastic wrap and meals containers, responsible for the recycling and disposal of these merchandise, too. Maine’s law takes impact in mid-2024, and Oregon’s follows in mid-2025.


These measures shift waste administration prices from clients and native municipalities to producers. As researchers who research waste and ways to reduce it, we’re excited to see states transferring to interact stakeholders, shift accountability, spur innovation, and problem current extractive practices.

Holding producers accountable

The Maine and Oregon legal guidelines are the newest functions of an idea known as prolonged producer accountability, or EPR. Swedish academic Thomas Lindhqvist framed this concept in 1990 as a method to lower merchandise’ environmental impacts by making producers responsible for the items’ total life cycles—particularly for takeback, recycling, and ultimate disposal.

Producers don’t all the time actually take again their items underneath EPR schemes. As an alternative, they typically make funds to an middleman group or company, which makes use of the cash to assist cowl the merchandise’ recycling and disposal prices. Making producers cowl these prices is meant to give them an incentive to redesign their merchandise to be much less wasteful.

The thought of prolonged producer accountability has pushed rules governing administration of digital waste, akin to outdated computer systems, televisions, and cellphones, in the European Union, China, and 25 U.S. states. Related measures have been adopted or proposed in nations together with Kenya, Nigeria, Chile, Argentina, and South Africa.

Scrap export bans in China and different international locations have given new power to EPR campaigns. Activist organizations and even some corporations at the moment are calling for producers to grow to be accountable for extra kinds of waste, together with consumer packaging.


What the state legal guidelines require

The Maine and Oregon legal guidelines outline shopper packaging as materials probably present in the common resident’s waste bin, akin to containers for meals and residential or private care merchandise. They exclude packaging supposed for long-term storage (over 5 years), beverage containers, paint cans, and packaging for medicine and medical units.

Maine’s regulation incorporates some core EPR rules, akin to setting a goal recycling aim and giving producers an incentive to use extra sustainable packaging. Oregon’s regulation consists of extra groundbreaking elements. It promotes the thought of a right to repair, which supplies shoppers entry to info that they want to repair merchandise they buy. And it creates a “Truth in Labeling” task force to assess whether or not producers are making deceptive claims about how recyclable their merchandise are.

The Oregon regulation additionally requires a study to assess how bio-based plastics can have an effect on compost waste streams, and it establishes a statewide collection list to harmonize what kinds of supplies might be recycled throughout the state. Research present that contamination from poor sorting is one in all the main reasons recyclables often are rejected.

Some prolonged producer accountability programs, akin to these for paint and mattresses, are funded by shoppers, who pay an added charge at the level of sale that’s itemized on their receipt. The charge helps the merchandise’ eventual recycling or disposal.

In distinction, the Maine and Oregon legal guidelines require producers to pay charges to the states, primarily based on how a lot packaging materials they promote in these states. Each legal guidelines additionally embody guidelines designed to restrict producers’ affect over how the states use these funds.

Will these legal guidelines cut back waste?

There’s no clear consensus but on the effectiveness of EPR. In some circumstances it has produced outcomes: For example, Connecticut’s mattress recycling rate rose from 8.7% to 63.5% after the state instituted a takeback regulation funded by charges paid at the level of sale. On a nationwide scale, the Product Stewardship Institute estimates that since 2007 U.S. paint EPR applications have reused and recycled virtually 24 million gallons of paint, created 200 jobs and saved governments and taxpayers over $240 million.

Critics argue that these applications want strong regulation and monitoring to make sure that companies take their duties critically—and particularly to stop them from passing prices on to shoppers, which requires enforceable accountability measures. Observers additionally argue that producers can have too much influence within stewardship organizations, which they warn might undermine enforcement or the credibility of the regulation.

Few research have been executed to this point to assess the long-term results of prolonged producer accountability applications, and people who exist don’t present conclusively whether or not these initiatives actually lead to more sustainable products. Maine and Oregon are small progressive states and are not major centers for the packaging industry, so the impression of their new legal guidelines stays to be seen.

Nonetheless, these measures are promising fashions. As Martin Bourque, govt director of Berkeley’s Ecology Center and an internationally identified skilled on plastics and recycling, instructed us, “Maine’s method of charging manufacturers and producers to pay cities for recycling companies is an enchancment over applications that give all of the operational and materials management to producers, the place the fox is straight in command of the hen home.”