Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR)
Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) is a critical policy mechanism to help advance a zero waste future and a circular economy. EPR shifts responsibility for the postconsumer management of products and packaging from local governments to producers. This includes financial responsibility and sometimes day-to-day management of covered material. Across the U.S., states are turning toward EPR policies to fundamentally revamp and reinvest in our recycling systems to build a more efficient, financially sustainable system.
Since product manufacturers and brand owners control how a product is designed and manufactured, they have the most direct influence on whether their products and packaging can be recycled. Yet in most cases, producers have no stake in the success of recycling programs. Recycling programs are managed and financed primarily at the local level, either funded by taxpayers or by user fees on households. However, local governments cannot control how products are made or how easy they are to recycle, and are faced with ever-increasing expenses to manage these materials.
By transferring the costs of recycling to the product manufacturers, EPR policies can help:
- provide more convenient recycling programs for residents
- improve recycling rates
- drive more environmentally sustainable products and packaging
- reduce costs to local governments.
EPR policies have been in place in Europe since the early 1990s and have now spread to every continent. These policies typically cover two distinct material types: hard-to-recycle materials and packaging.
In the U.S., there were over 115 EPR policies across 33 states in 2019, a tremendous increase from fewer than 10 policies in 2001. These policies target 14 different types of products, focusing on bulky or hard-to-recycle materials such as electronics, paint, mattresses, carpet, fluorescent lighting and pharmaceuticals.
EPR programs for packaging and paper products (PPP) are common in Canada and the E.U. where EPR policies have been highly successful at increasing the recycling of packaging. In Europe, where EPR has been established for decades, many countries have PPP recycling rates above 70% or 80%. By contrast, the U.S. recycles only 50% of PPP materials and as little as 8% of plastics.
EPR is a proven approach in Colorado
Colorado implemented an EPR program for paint in 2015 that has successfully increased paint recycling rates, provided greater access to collection sites, and reduced costs to cities and counties that previously paid for this service. Nearly 95% of residents now have access to paint recycling within 15 miles. Learn more about how the program works.
Why we need EPR for packaging in Colorado
Colorado’s recycling rate was a dismal 16% in 2020, less than half the national average and well below our goal of 28% by 2021. Increasing our recycling rate will reduce climate pollution, protect our clean air and water, and create jobs. Yet the investment needed to expand and improve our recycling system cannot and should not be the sole responsibility of local or state government or waste haulers. Consumer goods companies need to help finance recycling infrastructure, operations and education programs to increase the recycling of their products and packaging.
An EPR policy for packaging and paper products (PPP) in Colorado provides the opportunity to create an efficient, financially sustainable collection system for curbside recyclable materials such as plastic bottles, aluminum cans, glass bottles, cardboard, and printed paper.
Under EPR for packaging and printed paper, Colorado could:
- Increase our recycling rate and reduce climate pollution
- Provide all residents statewide with convenient access to recycling in both urban and rural areas
- Eliminate the additional fee that residents currently pay for curbside recycling
- Expand equitable access to recycling for multi-family properties like apartment buildings
- Develop a clear common list of what can be recycled statewide
- Boost our local economies by supporting businesses that use our recycled materials to make new products right here in Colorado
Eight U.S. states are pursuing EPR for packaging and federal legislation was introduced in 2020. Product manufacturers are increasingly interested in paying for recycling systems in order to meet their recycling and sustainability goals. An EPR system for packaging in Colorado has the potential to divert up to 25% of the materials currently being landfilled in addition to helping improve our existing recycling systems for aluminum, glass, steel, paper, cardboard and some plastics.
Help advance EPR for packaging in Colorado
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) is seeking input on EPR programs for Colorado and developing policy recommendations on how to move forward. Your voice is needed to help build an efficient, financially sustainable recycling system in Colorado. Sign up as a stakeholder to get involved today.
Check out these resources to learn more about EPR for packaging:
Eco-Cycle handout on benefits of EPR for packaging in Colorado
Product Stewardship Institute: EPR for packaging webpage; check out their report and toolkit too