Our recycling system isn’t working — here’s what we can do instead

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Only 9 percent of plastic is recycled each year in the United States. Our nation’s plastic waste continues to grow because the United States operates a largely ineffective patchwork recycling system that doesn’t create enough incentives for consumers and businesses to reduce their plastic emissions. It’s for a reason.

But there is a way to solve this. Lawmakers should shift economic responsibility for collecting, recycling, and reusing plastic packaging materials from consumers and local governments to producers of plastic products by establishing a national Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) policy. be.

Under the EPR framework, companies will be responsible for the cost of recycling materials, but will be subject to penalties if they use packaging that is difficult to recycle or if their packaging does not contain recycled materials. become. As a result, recycled materials will become more readily available and economical over time.

EPR policies have already been implemented in several states, including Colorado and California. In California, producers must meet plastic resource reduction requirements to ensure eligible materials are considered recyclable or compostable by 2032. Other states, including Minnesota, are considering following suit. These states demonstrate how industry, environmentalists, and policymakers can work together to transform the way materials are used, reused, and recycled.

Congress is also paying attention.

This Wednesday, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee held its first hearing to consider EPR policy for consumer packaging. Leading senators from both parties have expressed openness to establishing a federal framework for more consistent recycling and waste reduction policies across the country. They listened to a panel of witnesses, experts from World Wildlife Fund and AMERIPEN, and the Chairman and CEO of SC Johnson, explain how a federal EPR framework done right can help the U.S. Explained how it can help achieve sustainability and business goals.

You don’t often see companies welcoming regulation. But some of America’s most iconic companies recognize that without government action, plastic pollution and the associated costs of doing business will only get worse. We can help you create the clarity and certainty you need to prepare for new global rules and minimize business risk.

Meanwhile, several major organizations, including the World Wildlife Fund, Recycling Partnership, Monterey Bay Aquarium, Ocean Foundation, Ellen MacArthur Foundation, and Pew Charitable Trusts, recently urged President Biden to reduce U.S. plastic pollution by 2040. He asked them to set a goal to eliminate it. Develop a national framework to advance the transition to a circular economy.

The growing momentum to reduce plastic pollution reflects near-universal public support, with some 86 percent of Americans saying they want to shift from an economy where people constantly throw things away to an economy that emphasizes reuse and recycling. I agree that we need to move to .

As it turns out, plastic waste isn’t just limited to red or blue states. This is a bipartisan issue that affects all members of Congress. In response, lawmakers from both parties are responding with new legislation that will move the country in the right direction by establishing more consistency in how Americans reuse and recycle plastics.

For example, the bipartisan, bicameral Recycling and Composting Responsibility Act directs the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to collect additional data on recycling and conduct research that can inform national composting strategies. I will do it.

Another bill, supported by members of both parties in the House and Senate, is known as the Recycling Infrastructure and Accessibility Act, which provides funding for building recycling infrastructure projects in rural and underserved communities. Creates an EPA pilot program to make it easier for more people to dispose of waste sustainably. plastic.

Lawmakers should take these practical steps now. We also need to work on legislation that will establish a national EPR policy and bring about transformative changes in the way plastics are consumed. In doing so, they can be confident that they have strong support from both the American public and private sectors.

By adopting these practical, bipartisan steps, lawmakers can lay a much-needed foundation for loosening the stranglehold of plastic on our planet. They should seize the opportunity to make it easier for all of us to do our part to keep plastic out of nature.

Alejandro Pérez is Senior Vice President for Policy and Government at World Wildlife Fund.

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