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Commentary Energy & Environment

Opinion: Recycling Bill Gives Too Much Power to the Packaging Industry

Recycling
Unsplash.com photo by Nick Fewings.

By Neil Seldman

The writer is director of Waste to Wealth Initiative Institute for Local Self-Reliance.

This is in response to the commentary published in Maryland Matters on March 21, which described proposed packaging producer responsibility legislation as a step in the right direction for the state. Giving global corporations control over recycling is a flawed solution for reducing packaging waste in Maryland.

Despite claims from lobbying groups like the American Institute for Packaging and the Environment,  legislation before the Maryland General Assembly is deeply flawed.

The legislation – HB307/SB292 Environment – Packaging Materials – Producer Responsibility – would establish a producer responsibility organization, or PRO, that controls how packaging is handled in the state.

In essence, major packaging corporations and the plastics industry would decide how to best recycle in every town in the state. In places that have implemented similar structures, this has led to stagnated recycling rates, increased waste incineration, unfair fees for mid-sized manufacturers, pushback against efforts to ban single-use plastics and support reuse, and little if any actual packaging reduction.

In British Columbia, absence of oversight of the product stewardship companies has led to abusive monopoly power and use of fees to fund their lobbying activities, thereby retaining their market power.

This is particularly concerning given that HB0307/SB0292 would make the PRO immune from state antitrust laws at a time when the need to curb corporate market power of the economy is gaining increased attention. ILSR’s Statement on Extended Producer Responsibility for Packaging explains why industry control is the wrong approach.

Several states, including California, Washington and Hawaii, have rejected similar legislation due to concerns about putting too much power in the hands of the packaging industry.

In fact, Hawaii is now working on alternative legislation — SB3246, sponsored by state Sen. Laura Ocasio — that keeps control in the hands of local governments, rather than big corporations.

In New York, a broad coalition is fighting to remove a bad EPR bill — now included in Gov. Kathy Hochul’s proposed budget  and replace it with a strong bill that calls for packaging reduction, specific recycling requirements, no burning of plastics, strong oversight and accountability, and reduction of toxics in packaging.

Maryland should follow their lead.

As Judith Enck, president of Beyond Plastics, says: no EPR bill is better than a bad EPR bill that would set recycling back 10 years. There are better models available that will more effectively reduce waste while keeping power in the hands of Marylanders.