- The Composting Consortium, managed by Closed Loop Partners’ Center for the Circular Economy, released a policy brief on Tuesday asserting that extended producer responsibility programs are strengthened by needs assessments that take into account compostable packaging and composting infrastructure.
- The brief includes three calls to action for regulators, policymakers and producer responsibility organizations, such as collaborating with downstream partners — including composters — to optimize allocations from EPR fees.
- The policy brief’s other two other calls to action include understanding the packaging landscape — including compostables and the sector’s rapid growth — to prevent unintended consequences as well as “establishing suitable collection and processing infrastructure to create a resilient EPR plan.” Needs assessments would help to determine the types of infrastructure improvements that are possible.
As mentioned in the policy brief, compostables represent a relatively nascent sector compared with other parts of the packaging industry. But it’s expanding quickly, experiencing an estimated 16% annual growth through 2032, which is four times faster than traditional plastic packaging, the brief said, citing data from Ameripen and the Association for Packaging and Processing Technologies. The sector is experiencing some growing pains as it expands, including debates around labeling and contamination.
As markets advance, the Composting Consortium, a multiyear collaboration that includes participants from across the packaging value chain, aims to identify best practices for advancing food scrap and compostable packaging recovery. The group, which counts PepsiCo, Kraft Heinz, the Biodegradable Products Institute, US Composting Council, US Plastics Pact and others as partners, wants compostable packaging to receive greater consideration as demand increases for more sustainable alternatives to single-use plastic packaging and to have a more prominent role in discussions about EPR.
The policy brief considers needs assessment studies critical for gathering data about packaging material that helps state agencies better understand their waste management challenges as well as opportunities.
"By collaborating with composters and accounting for compostable packaging, states can develop balanced extended producer responsibility policies that are comprehensive and economically viable, and also create opportunity for long-term positive environmental impact while meeting waste reduction goals," said Caroline Barry, program manager of the Composting Consortium, via email.
The brief said that an “emerging concern of the needs assessment is around data inaccuracy and the potential oversight of less prominent materials, like compostable packaging” due to the sector being less established and it holding only a small slice of the industry’s overall market share. In addition, the “recycling industry has historically struggled to collect plentiful, accurate industry data,” including as states conduct needs assessments, the brief said.
The brief suggests that needs assessments could be more accurate, comprehensive resources by including compostables. Incomplete assessments could hinder the development of effective EPR programs, which are intended to “incentivize companies to create packaging that is easier to recycle, process and reuse,” because they use the assessments as a foundation for establishing recovery goals.
A report that the Composting Consortium and BPI released last summer said consumers don’t understand compostable messaging on packaging, often resulting in improper disposal. In that vein, BPI, USCC and a stakeholder task force released last fall best practices for policymakers considering compostable product labeling laws.
The consortium suggests that states considering or embarking on an EPR for packaging program use the new policy brief as a resource for developing comprehensive, accurate and effective needs assessments that engage the compostable packaging segment.
2024 is poised to be an important year for advancing implementation of EPR laws in the four states that have them — California, Colorado, Maine and Oregon — as well as for Illinois and Maryland, which are pursuing needs assessments. Some observers believe other states will join those two in exploring needs assessments, as that approach starts the process without requiring a full-fledged EPR law.