Recycling Reinvented—a nonprofit organization committed to expanding Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR)—has released results from its cost-benefit analysis study on an American system for market-based recycling. The group says that the study shows for the first time that a model system could achieve significant improvements in recycling rates at similar costs to current programs, while taking the financial burden for administration off cash-strapped local governments.
The study examines the projected outcomes of a model EPR system for packaging and printed paper, with Minnesota chosen as the model state due to its already well-developed infrastructure and availability of data. It was commissioned by Recycling Reinvented to provide data-backed assessments of EPR for all stakeholders, including state legislators that will be considering legislation on the matter.
“Many advocates, both for and against, are making arguments based on theory or models from other countries that have implemented EPR for packaging and printed paper, but no one has yet to do a truly data-rich analysis of how a system designed uniquely for America could work,” says Paul Gardner, Recycling Reinvented executive director and former Minnesota state representative. “We commissioned this study to ensure that business, environmental, and legislative stakeholders can consider the issue from an informed position.”
The second working paper offers the first look at the potential outcomes of an American-model EPR for printed paper. Based on an extensive analysis of waste-stream data from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, costs and efficiencies of existing local programs, the outcomes of similar programs, and the successes of best-practice programs throughout Minnesota, a model EPR system is projected by Recycling Reinvented to have a significant positive impact on recycling rates of packaging and printed materials at costs comparable to the existing system.
The model system scales up best practices around the state, such as implementing single-stream recycling statewide, expanding curbside recycling to nearly 90% of households, establishing a more robust away-from-home recycling program, and optimizing processing infrastructure to leverage existing investments in state-of-the-art technology. Recycling Reinvented says that data shows that such a model could increase the recycling rate of packaging and printed paper by 32%, while efficiencies and savings from a statewide standardization of material collection and technology keep the cost per ton of recycled material equivalent to today’s system.
“This is an important rebuttal to those who claim that Minnesota, or the United States as a whole, have peaked our recycling potential without significant operational cost increases,” says Gardner. “More importantly, it’s a demonstration of why businesses facing an impending commodity crush for these valuable materials have a clear incentive to take on the management of America’s recycling through EPR, to see these best-practices expanded and administered with the efficiency of the private sector marketplace.”
Recycling Reinvented and its partners, which include Nestlé Waters North America and New Belgium Brewing Company, argue for a business-led EPR system because companies have a significant financial interest in having printed paper recycled in greater quantity and quality but are hampered from impacting change due to the fractured, locally driven system that currently exists.