Feb 11, 2022 Updated Mar 14, 2022
A proposal that would require a shift in the financial responsibility for recycling from consumers to manufacturers is generating an uproar among a diverse coalition of industries, ranging from cannabis to newspapers, big box stores to small businesses. The bill, known as the Extended Producer Responsibility Act from Rep. Lisa Cutter, has not yet been introduced, though the Littleton Democrat said she expects it to come within the next few days. The bill would require the state Department of Public Health and Environment to select a nonprofit that will implement a recycling program by March 2023. The bill envisions the program will be funded by annual "producer responsibility dues" paid by producers who use packaging materials, paper products, and single-use food serviceware. The nonprofit would be industry-run and known as a “producer responsibility organization," according to Randy Moorman of Eco-Cycle, which along with Recycle Colorado are the bill’s main backers. The PRO would set the rates, including a minimum recycling rate, that the state would begin to use beginning in 2030. PROs are not a new idea in Colorado, Moorman said, pointing to a successful paint recycling program that is industry-run. Moorman said the bill will address Colorado’s abysmal recycling rates, which he said stagnated between 11% to 15% as compared to the national average of around 34% and rates between 60% to 80% in countries with extended producer responsibility laws. That, Moorman said, results in five million pounds of materials dumped in landfills in Colorado every year. “The system is broken and we have to fix it. We’re burying $100 million in commodity value in landfills,” he said. There’s another issue at play, however, and that’s changing consumer culture around recycling. Moorman said participation goes up when barriers to recycling are eliminated, such as accessibility. The PRO will pay for recycling, instead of consumers, eliminating a second barrier: consumer cost. Recycling groups been working to get more infrastructure into the system and provide services to residents and businesses so they can recycle, Moorman said. The PRO will help with that, he added, by transforming the recycling system from top to bottom. Everyone will have access, he said, whether that’s in rural Colorado or a multifamily unit in Denver. The draft also says that by July 2025, any producer of materials covered under the bill “may not sell or distribute any products that use covered materials in the state unless the producer is participating in the (state) program or an alternative.” That provisions comes with penalties for offenders. A first violation would earn a penalty of $5,000 for the first day of each violation and $1,500 for any subsequent day tied to that first violation. A second violation within 12 months would earn a $10,000 penalty for the first day and $3,000 per day after that. A third violation within 12 months would result in a $20,000 penalty on the first day and $6,000 per day after that. Out-of-state manufacturers would not be let off the hook. The PRO will be responsible for enforcing the law, which will say that anyone selling products with packaging included under the bill would have to participate in the PRO. Cutter's bill is Colorado’s version of a piece of legislation that is gaining popularity in state legislatures across the country. Oregon and Maine have passed versions of their own, but have not yet implemented them, while a New York version, which is what Cutter's bill is based on, is awaiting action in the New York state senate. The Colorado bill is making businesses and organizations nervous, including the Colorado Press Association. Tim Regan-Porter, the press association’s CEO, said in a statement the CPA “is very concerned about the potential impact of the recycling bill on citizens’ ability to get trustworthy news." "Many Coloradans depend on printed newspapers as their primary source of reliable information, and many who lack broadband access are without digital alternatives," Regan-Porter said. "As currently structured, the bill would impose significant hardship on newspapers and likely force some to shutter. This would be especially devastating to rural communities where the local newspaper is the only source of local news." He noted that while the bill has an exemption for small businesses, it would still impact many small newspapers. Regan-Porter pointed out that newspapers, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, are among the most recycled products, constituting less than 1.7% of municipal solid waste nationwide. He also noted that unlike the other materials referenced in the bill, newspapers are the product, not packaging for another physical product. That’s why other versions of the EPR legislation exempts books, newspapers or magazines. “We are hopeful that any final versions of this bill will reflect these realities and not penalize and jeopardize these vital sources of community news and information,” Regan-Porter said.