Extended Producer Responsibility: Are You Ready?

Do you know what EPR is, and why it matters to you? Read this quick Q&A to find out how EPR will impact brands in the United States, starting in 2025.

Dan Felton, Ameripen Executive Director
Dan Felton, Ameripen Executive Director

Dan Felton, Ameripen’s Executive Director, gives readers a quick primer on Extended Producer Responsibility in this Q&A. Felton will present an in-depth session on EPR updates at the Packaging Recycling Summit this September 16-18 in Anaheim, when brands, materials and machinery suppliers, reprocessors, and materials recovery facilities (MRFs) gather to collaborate on packaging recyclability. More information on the event can be found here.

KO: Please briefly tell us what Ameripen does and describe your role.

DF: AMERIPEN – the American Institute for Packaging and the Environment – is a trade association dedicated to improving packaging and the environment. We are the only material-inclusive packaging industry trade association in the United States representing the entire packaging supply chain. This includes materials suppliers, packaging manufacturers, consumer packaged goods companies, retailers, and end-of-life materials managers. As AMERIPEN’s Executive Director, I develop and champion public policy positions for the U.S. packaging industry on issues related to packaging and the environment, using sound science and a philosophy of material inclusiveness.

KO: If you had to explain Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) to a person on the street (or in a 15 second TikTok video), how would you describe it?

DF: Extended producer responsibility (EPR) is a public policy mechanism that shifts the financial, and sometimes operational, responsibility of the end-of-life management of products from consumers and government to the companies that sell those products to consumers. Brand owners are required to put money for the products they sell (packaging in this instance) into a non-profit organization they help run that pays for recycling and composting infrastructure, collection, sorting, processing and sale of recovered materials to markets for reuse.

KO: Why do Packaging World readers need to be aware of EPR, and what is the timeline for implementation within the US?

DF: Packaging EPR is now officially here in the U.S., with full program laws now being implemented in four states – California, Colorado, Maine and Oregon. While packaging brand owners will primarily be responsible for funding the EPR programs under these new laws, many other types of Packaging World readers, including packaging material suppliers, manufacturers, converters and end-of-life materials managers (composters and recyclers), will also be impacted. The Colorado and Oregon programs will be fully up and running in mid-2025, Maine in late 2026, and California by 2027.

KO: There seems to be some confusion over who “owns” EPR responsibility within a company. Does it depend on how the company is structured, or is there a particular department or two that should be staying on top of these developments?

DF: My experience has been that it really depends on how the company is structured. Given the broad scope of these new programs emerging in the U.S. (we all know packaging can be complicated throughout its entire life cycle), I am seeing significant cross-collaboration within multiple company departments, including finance, legal, packaging design and engineering, procurement, and sustainability. Also, many companies are now discovering they may need extra and new internal and/or external human and operational resources to collect and report necessary data to be a responsible producer and to maintain compliance with new requirements under the new laws.

KO: Would you say the EPR experience in other countries has been a positive one? What is one takeaway from those who have gone before us?

I believe it depends on the country, the scope of their laws and programs, and other factors. EPR programs in some countries have succeeded fairly well, while others not as much. One takeaway from those who have gone before us – some as long as 20-30 years ago – is that their programs are continuing to evolve and reinvent themselves as packaging and recovery technology continues to evolve, expand, and innovate. So, while we can look to those who have gone before, we must also look to what might uniquely be needed here in the U.S.

Packaging Recycling Summit, September 16-18, 2024Packaging Recycling Summit, September 16-18, 2024KO: What will you be discussing with the audience during your session at the September 2024 Packaging Recycling Summit?

DF: I will be giving an update and facilitating a discussion about the emergence and implementation of all the new full program and groundwork packaging EPR laws across the country. What states have laws and what states are thinking about it? How are the state laws the same and how are they different? Where are conditions more favorable, and what problematic elements linger? Could and should something get done on packaging EPR at the federal level? I’m hoping Packaging Recycling Summit attendees will join me at this session to get answers to these questions and ask me more!

KO: Ameripen will be hosting a special workshop following the Summit. What do you hope to accomplish, and why is the timing important for this gathering?

DF: The workshop, hosted by AMERIPEN and ReMA, will explore packaging and recycling trends, how we plan for the future together, and how we can collaborate to drive system improvements amidst emerging legislative proposals. We anticipate this workshop will help inform strategies to support increased collaboration between the recycling and packaging industries to advance packaging recovery. A summary of findings will be produced as a deliverable with action items for AMERIPEN, ReMA and other industry stakeholders to pursue afterwards.

More information on the Packaging Recycling Summit can be found here.

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