From Capitol to Capitol: The Evolving Journey of Extended Producer Responsibility in Packaging

Mar 14, 2024, 10:49 AM
Content author:
Kristen Hildreth
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Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) is becoming a significant tool to increase the recycling of difficult-to-recycle items by assigning the financial and physical responsibilities for the end-of-life management of post-consumer products to the producers of those products.  

Originally, EPR programs targeted the management of hazardous materials, or products that were too costly to dispose of, such as electronics, paint, and mercury containing automotive switches. States have pioneered these efforts, with Maine enacting the nation’s first electronics EPR program in 2004, Oregon enacting the first paint EPR program in 2009, California passing the first carpet EPR program in 2010, Connecticut establishing the first mattress EPR program in 2013, and Vermont enacting the first-ever battery EPR program in 2014.  

The scope of EPR policies recently expanded into the packaging sector, with an emphasis on plastic packaging and paper products. In the last three years, four states – California, Colorado, Maine, and Oregon – have all enacted EPR legislation for packaging materials, signaling a shift toward addressing the environmental impact of such materials, and the need to increase collection and recycling rates of consumer packaging. The details on each state are below. Find more information on specific implementation timelines and other key components here. 

  Maine | LD 1541  Oregon | SB 582  Colorado | HB 1355  California | SB 54 
Products Covered   Packaging  Packaging, printed paper, food service ware  Packaging, printed and other paper   Single use packaging, plastic food service ware 
Producer Responsibility Organization  Single under state contract   Multiple possible immediately  State approves single initially, multiple possible after 2028  State approves single initially, multiple possible after 2031 
Advisory Council  No  17 voting members, appointed by Governor and 2 non-voting legislators  13 voting members, two non-voting members – created by Colorado CDPHE  13 voting and three non-voting members, created by CalRecycle 
Eco-Modulation  Yes – PRO develops  Allowed – PRO develops  Allowed – state develops  Allowed – PRO develops 
Recycling Goals   State develops  In law for plastic  PRO develops  In law for plastic 
Producer Compliance  Fall 2026  July 2025  July 2025  January 2027 
Stakeholder Resources  ME Department of Environmental Protection  OR Department of Environmental Quality   CO Department of Public Health & Environment  CalRecycle 

In 2023, legislative interest persisted with lawmakers considering 43 bills in 14 states pertaining to EPR standards for plastics and packaging materials. Illinois and Maryland passed legislation for statewide recycling needs assessments, significantly scaled down from their original versions, which would have established EPR programs.  

The momentum continued in 2024 with Hawaii, Illinois, Minnesota, New YorkTennessee, and Washington all considering initial needs assessments, or full EPR programs for consumer packaging.  

This state-level momentum captured federal attention, with the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee recently holding a hearing on EPR policies for consumer packaging. The hearing provided a platform to discuss existing state policies, examine the potential role for the federal government, and evaluate industry and environmental perspectives. Senator Tom Carper (D-Del.), Chairman of the EPW Committee, stressed that EPR “policies on their own will not fix [the Nation’s] waste management system,” and that they must be part of a broader strategy that “must work in tandem with other investments in [recycling] infrastructure, education and data collection.” 

Ranking Member Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), highlighted the importance of grounding EPR policies in reality, accounting for the downstream impacts, and ensuring that the federal government “avoid mandates around EPR or circularity that may have unintended consequences.” She stressed the need for collaboration among all stakeholders to “achieve outcomes that protect both the environment and grow the economy,” a sentiment ISRI couldn’t agree more with.  

Federally, the reintroduction of the Break Free from Plastics Pollution Act in the Fall of 2023 indicates ongoing concern about plastic pollution, though the bill faces partisan challenges and is unlikely to move forward in this Congress. It’s a sweeping bill with numerous provisions including beverage container deposit, EPR, and recycled content provisions. 

As EPR for packaging gains traction, it’s important to proceed with caution. Most recyclable materials flow smoothly through the industry without any difficulties and are transformed into high-quality products. Introducing EPR for materials that are already successfully re-integrated into the market could disrupt existing, well-functioning systems. This is true for commodities with well-established markets such as aluminum, corrugated cardboard, and PET bottles.  

Before turning to EPR, ISRI encourages manufacturers to undertake preemptive measures to address challenges with hard-to-recycle items. These measures include designing products for easier recycling, using more recycled content to strengthen the demand for recyclable materials, and educating consumers on proper recycling practices.

However, ISRI acknowledges EPR’s potential for managing hard-to-recycle items as a temporary measure to support new recycling markets until they mature. EPR should provide a collection mechanism for difficult-to-recycle items, which could be accomplished through manufacturer facilitated collection systems developed in cooperation with retailers, or other entities; and ensure that municipalities and recyclers are compensated for the cost associated with separate collection, transportation, and processing systems for difficult-to-recycle items.  

As the discussion on EPR programs continues, ISRI emphasizes the importance of conducting thorough needs assessments that consider the existing recycling infrastructure – can the issue be solved by bolstering the existing infrastructure? Moreover, if a program is implemented, an “off-ramp” for commodities with robust markets should be included in any EPR program to avoid unnecessary regulation. It is also crucial that the recycled materials industry, including haulers, recyclers, and material recovery facilities (MRFs), have representation in any producer responsibility structure that may be part of an EPR program.   

The evolution of EPR policies, especially in the packaging sector, underscores the need to balance increasing recycling rates with the need to maintain an efficient and effective recycling infrastructure. ISRI remains committed to advocating for policies and regulations that support healthy end markets and a quality supply stream, upon which are essential for successful recycling.  


For further insights into EPR-trends, or other legislative action within states, visit ISRI’s State Resources and Tracking resource. These webpages help members stay well-informed about legislation, categorized by state or issue area. Members can also access the latest ISRI State Update on Region and Chapter Policy Activities for bi-weekly updates. For more information, contact ISRI staff Abby Blocker,, or Kristen Hildreth,  


Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) is becoming a significant tool to increase the recycling of difficult-to-recycle...
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