Last week, the Rhode Island General Assembly moved forward with the introduction of a new bill that would create an Extended Producer Responsibility program for packaging waste.  Building on the lessons learned from past legislative sessions, our dialogues with local governments and industry, and program results from North America, we’ve developed and refined an EPR for packaging model that fits the unique needs of stakeholders in the United States.  As part of this process, we’ve engaged legislators, policy staff, local governments, NGOs, business, state agencies and experts in the US and Canada.

Key policy provisions in this bill include:

  • Programs would be fully-funded by brand owners (consumer goods companies).
  • Companies retain individual responsibility for their packaging.
  • Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation, state solid waste quasi-public, is granted regulatory authority to determine how industry would need to reduce waste, run collection programs, manage collected materials, conduct education and promotion, and data submission.
  • Packaging is sub-divided into three categories: primary, convenience, and transport.
  • Sets a statewide goal for industry to collect 75% of material sold into the market.
  • Allows, but does not mandate, the creation of third-party producer responsibility organizations, giving industry an incentive for program innovation.

Additionally, the Corporation is directed to work with other entities to prevent the growing impact of plastic pollution.  Any material that is designated as a “major source” of plastic pollution triggers a requirement for brands who use that material to develop and implement a monitoring and pollution reduction program in order to stem the flow of hazardous material.  While one state alone will never be able to address this worldwide problem, it is essential for the Ocean State to continue its leadership in ocean and shoreline protection, as it is Rhode Island’s most valuable natural resource.

Senator William Walaska (D-30, President Pro Tempore), lead sponsor of the Senate bill, is no stranger to the issue of packaging waste.  From the fall of 2012 through the 2013 session, he chaired the Special Legislative Commission to Study Producer Responsibility Models for Paper and Packaging.  In its final report, the first recommendation was “supporting both continued work on EPR for paper and packaging through the legislative process and supporting voluntary producer responsibility initiatives.”  A House version of the bill will be introduced by Representative Chris Blazejewski (D-2, Deputy Majority Whip) in the next week.

Since 2013, various versions of EPR packaging bills have been introduced into the Rhode Island legislature.  While the legislature is holding firm to its commitment on supporting packaging EPR through the legislative process, the consumer goods industry has wholly ignored the recommendation to develop and support voluntary initiatives.  No new pilot programs have come to Rhode Island as an initiative of producers of packaged goods.  There has been no additional engagement of these entities to support local governments who are currently burdened with materials being generated by the rapidly growing and profitable plastic packaging industry.

Despite the continued claims of industry that they will support local program growth and their marginal investments through programs like the Closed Loop Fund and Recycling Partnership, product manufacturers have failed to live up to the responsibility they have in financing the system to collect and manage the packaging they put into the marketplace.

Rhode Island continues to be a leader in this conversation. Now that there is a successful North American program out of British Columbia, many of the opposition points raised in the study commission report by the industry have proved to have little to no merit.  Rather than maintain the position that local governments should continue to subsidize industry profits through paying for the management of their packaging, it is time for consumer goods companies to work together with advocates and government to craft a bill to develop and implement the most effective program.