More and more states are looking to pass a new kind of recycling law that makes manufacturers foot the bill for cleaning up the waste created by their products.
Clearly, something isn’t working, but as a consumer, I’m sick of the weight of those millions of tons of trash falling squarely on consumers’ shoulders. While I’ll continue to do my part, it’s high time that the companies profiting from all this waste also step up and help us deal with their ever-growing footprint on our planet.
An investigation last year by NPR and PBS confirmed that polluting industries have long relied on recycling as a greenwashing scapegoat. If the public came to view recycling as a panacea for sky-high plastic consumption, manufacturers — as well as the oil and gas companies that sell the raw materials that make up plastics — bet they could continue deluging the market with their products.
There are currently no laws that require manufacturers to help pay for expensive recycling programs or make the process easier, but a promising trend is emerging. Earlier this year, New York legislators Todd Kaminsky and Steven Englebright proposed a bill — the “Extended Producer Responsibility Act” — that would make manufacturers in the state responsible for the disposal of their products.
Other laws exist in some states for hazardous wastes, such as electronics, car batteries, paint and pesticide containers. Paint manufacturers in nearly a dozen states, for example, must manage easy-access recycling drop-off sites for leftover paint. Those laws have so far kept more than 16 million gallons of paint from contaminating the environment. But for the first time, manufacturers could soon be on the hook for much broader categories of trash — including everyday paper, metal, glass and plastic packaging — by paying fees to the municipalities that run waste management systems. In addition to New York, the states of California, Washington and Colorado also currently have such bills in the works.
“The New York bill would be a foundation on which a modern, more sustainable waste management system could be built,” says NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) waste expert Eric Goldstein.
In New York City alone, the proposed legislation would cover an estimated 50% of the municipal waste stream. Importantly, it would funnel millions of dollars into the state’s beleaguered recycling programs. This would free up funds to hire more workers and modernize sorting equipment while also allowing cities to re-allocate their previous recycling budgets toward other important services, such as education, public parks and mass transit.