Paper and Paper-based Packaging: A Shining Example of How Voluntary Recovery Works

Dec 13, 2013
 As Featured in the November/December issue of AICC Boxscore
 By Cathy Foley
 AF&PA Goup Vice President

 Some states are looking for new legislative ways to divert waste
 from landfills for both environmental and economic reasons.  One of
 the concepts that some states have considered for printed paper
 and packaging is extended producer responsibility (EPR).  In the
 U.S., we are more familiar with EPR programs for electronics, batteries, and mercury thermostats rather than printed paper and packaging.  

EPR programs tend to place end of life responsibility largely, if not entirely, on the product manufacturer.  In the U.S., EPR can be expressed in one of four ways at the state level:  1) product-specific legislation; 2) framework legislation; 3) solid waste management plan; or 4) executive order.  The most popular form of EPR has historically been through product-specific legislation.  In 2013, 10 states introduced 18 pieces of EPR legislation, while three states took regulatory action to address paper and paper-based packaging specific EPR.  

The paper and paper-based packaging industry has worked for 20 years to establish voluntary recycling and recovery programs that are yielding results today.  Through these efforts we have voluntarily increased recovery rates, not because of mandates, but because it makes good business sense.  Paper recovery and recycling programs are market-driven.  EPR programs for printed paper and packaging have the potential to add unneeded and unnecessary costs, creating a complexity to an existing, successful system.  

We all recognize the importance and share the goals of increasing recycling, recovery and diverting paper from landfills - which is exactly why the paper industry has spent considerable resources to build a voluntary infrastructure to recover and recycle its own products.  Paper is a commodity that is highly recyclable, compostable and renewable.  More than 60 percent of paper consumed in the U.S. has been recovered for recycling each year since 2009 – most recently exceeding 65 percent in 2012. Corrugated recovery reached 91 percent in 2012.  The industry’s recovery rate far outpaces all other commodities in the municipal solid waste stream. As part of Better Practices, Better Planet 2020 sustainability initiative, AF&PA members have set a goal to exceed 70 percent paper recovery by 2020 and are working with communities, businesses, and schools to reach this goal.  

Proponents of EPR, believe that the current recycling and recovery systems in the U.S. are not working.  They believe that EPR programs will help expand access to recycling or recycling rates, control solid waste costs, create job opportunities, and leave industries paying higher prices for those commodities that were landfilled.

However there are serious concerns amongst the paper industry and other interested industries regarding the implementation of any EPR programs.  This approach could dismantle the effective infrastructure that currently exists to collect and recycle paper and paper-based packaging materials.  

Our industry has a proven record of setting and achieving recovery goals.  We’ve established an infrastructure that meets market demands and maximizes paper recovery in states from coast to coast.  We have a system that is working and a commodity, in paper that leads all others in recovery and landfill diversion.  When it comes to paper and paper-based packaging, EPR is a solution in search of a problem.