Gov. Polis signs Colorado’s EPR for packaging bill

Updated: Jun 10

Published by Megan Quinn Reporter for Waste Dive

UPDATE: June 2, 2022: Gov. Jared Polis has signed HB22-1355, making Colorado the third state to pass an extended producer responsibility law for packaging. Producers of packaging and printed paper will fund and operate the program, and dues will be used to finance a statewide recycling program.

In a news release, Polis called the law an “important step” in improving the state’s recycling rates while aiming to “remove the costs of recycling from localities and taxpayers, and save Coloradans money.”

Dive Brief:

  • May 12: Colorado could become the third state to pass an extended producer responsibility law for packaging after the state Senate on Wednesday voted to approve HB22-1355. It now goes to Gov. Jared Polis for a final decision.

  • The EPR program, which could start in 2026, would be operated and funded by producers who join a nonprofit producer responsibility organization. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment would oversee it, with input from an advisory board of recycling stakeholders. Producers would pay dues each year to fund a statewide recycling program.

  • Supporters see the EPR bill as the best way to increase Colorado’s 15% recycling rate (as of 2020) and make recycling access more equitable. Yet the American Forest & Paper Association has called for the governor to veto the bill, saying it will harm paper recycling rates and raise costs for consumers.

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Dive Insight:

Colorado’s EPR bill is the latest in the national conversation over what role packaging producers should take in reducing waste and contributing to local recycling infrastructure improvements, a discussion that has been hotly contested in numerous states this year.

Hawaii’s legislature failed to pass its own EPR bill before its session ended, because legislators did not resolve differences in final bill versions. Meanwhile, New York is contemplating two competing EPR bills before its session ends June 2. Last year, Oregon and Maine passed their own versions of EPR for packaging and are currently in the rulemaking process.

These EPR proposals have been tailored to each state’s priorities and competing interests. In Colorado’s version of EPR, producers would pay annual membership dues to the producer responsibility organization based on the amount and type of packaging or paper they use. Companies would thus have an incentive to reduce unnecessary packaging and use more recycled content in order to pay lower fees, according to the bill. Fees would go toward funding new or improved recycling services, and residents could keep using their usual recycling services if they wish, according to the bill. The bill also includes unique provisions for processing compostable packaging.

Kate Bailey, policy and research director at nonprofit recycler Eco-Cycle, said a producer-run model fits best with Colorado’s specific recycling services, which are “largely provided by private companies.”

The bill faced numerous amendments during the final days of Colorado’s legislative session, but state Rep. Lisa Cutter, one of its main sponsors, said she is pleased with the final results. “We took a lot of feedback and lessons learned from other states [to craft the bill], but made this specific to Colorado,” she said. Cutter anticipates Polis will sign the bill.

Cutter said the bill makes several exemptions with small businesses in mind, including those with less than $5 million in gross annual revenue. Some products with special safety features, such as pharmaceutical packaging, would also be exempt.

The bill is also meant to address what Bailey says are major inequities in Colorado’s current recycling landscape, with some rural and multifamily households having little to no access to recycling.

Local governments have voiced their support, as have the Colorado Municipal League and Colorado Communities for Climate Action, who say the EPR model will bring “convenient and equitable recycling access to communities that have been underserved.” In a letter, the groups explained the challenge of bringing recycling services to rural areas of the state and to multifamily households, almost 60% of which do not have access to recycling, they said.

One of the PRO’s tasks, according to the bill, would be to hire an independent third party to assess Colorado’s recycling services and identify which recycling needs aren’t being met. The assessment, due by April 2024, is also meant to give guidance on how to expand recycling programs past residential services to include places like businesses, government buildings and other locations, with the goal to expand to such places by 2028. Guidance would also include proposed recycling rates the state would need to meet by January 2030 and January 2035.

Colorado’s EPR program would have an advisory board made up of “recycling experts.” The board would include voting representatives from a MRF, a hauler, a landfill or transfer station operator and a compost facility, as well as two packaging and paper manufacturers, three local government representatives, two nonprofit groups, and two local business groups. Nonvoting members would include a representative from the PRO and one from the state.

Speaking during a panel at this week’s WasteExpo, Scott Hutchings, director of government affairs for WM, said it’s significant that the waste and recycling industry will make up four of the 13 voting positions. “We want to partner with everyone to increase recycling, and to do that we need to be included in the conversation early and often. We’re the ones that have to implement this.”

Hutchings is also chair of the National Waste & Recycling Association’s Rocky Mountain Chapter, a group that recently testified against the EPR bill. The chapter said EPR would raise prices for consumers in a time when inflation is already high, and it said a new EPR program would stress Colorado’s existing recycling infrastructure instead of bolstering it. Separately, Hutchings said WM generally believes “there’s a need for EPR,” but he believes that Colorado’s bill is overly complex “and Colorado’s not there yet, the infrastructure is not there yet.”

AF&PA has called for Polis to veto the legislation. In a statement, Terry Webber, AF&PA’s vice president of industry affairs, said EPR “is not the right policy approach for sustainable paper products,” and it urged the state to shift its focus to initiatives for funding its recycling programs instead. AF&PA hosted a recent press conference to underscore its opposition, saying EPR in Colorado could negatively impact paper recycling rates in the state.

Bailey acknowledged that the EPR program would be “a big change for the state” but said the bill attracted a “broad coalition of support” that helped shape the bill.

Supporters also include large producers such as the Coca-Cola Co., Nestlé, PepsiCo, SC Johnson and Amcor, who — along with six other companies from the Consumer Goods Forum — said in a letter of support that Colorado’s EPR bill provides “the industry with a strong management role.”

While the companies generally support a more shared financial responsibility model instead of taking on all costs, the group said, “we remain supportive of HB 22-1355 because its form of EPR is more appropriate for Colorado and it contains strong operational control while providing the PRO and our CGF membership with flexibility to manage costs and drive improvements in recycling rates in the state.”

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