Commentary

Paper products are part of Colorado’s sustainable future

Bill could set back progress on paper recycling in the state

May 3, 2022 3:46 pm

Receptacles for recycling, compost and trash are seen in downtown Boulder on Aug. 14, 2021. (Quentin Young/Colorado Newsline)

State lawmakers are considering a proposal, House Bill 22-1355, which would create new recycling regulations in the Centennial State. This bill, known as “extended producer responsibility,” or EPR, would effectively shift the costs of recycling responsibilities from local government to manufacturers, distributors and Coloradans who buy everyday products, while establishing a new command-and-control system to manage recycling rates.

However, these proposals fail to acknowledge that all materials are not recycled equally.

More paper by weight is recycled from municipal waste streams each year than aluminum, glass, steel and plastic combined. The EPR proposal, which is intended to improve the recyclability of other materials, could actually set back paper recycling progress in the state.

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As policymakers consider new recycling policies, they should recognize the paper industry’s investments in our recycling infrastructure and create a regulatory environment that does not disrupt Colorado’s paper recycling achievements.

This success is largely driven by the widespread availability of recycling programs. In Colorado, nearly 50% of residents have access to curbside recycling, and 61% have drop-off recycling access. Nationally, data from the American Forest & Paper Association shows that 94% of Americans have access to paper and paperboard recycling through community curbside or drop-off programs. Thanks in part to the paper industry’s efforts, 14 million more people have access to curbside recycling programs today than in 2014.

Our commitment to sustainability extends well beyond the curb and community recycling drop off to our paper manufacturing facilities. The paper industry has already allocated about $5 billion in manufacturing investments by 2024 — totaling nearly $2.5 million per day in sustainability investments — to continue the best use of recycled fiber in our products. In fact, recovered paper fibers can be reused five to seven times to make new paper and cardboard products.

American families cannot afford added economic costs at a time when many are struggling with financial hardship and record inflation.

However, HB22-1355 could imperil this progress. The bill seeks to crowd multiple materials under a single regulatory umbrella with the misguided expectation that all will be improved as a result. Though well-intentioned, it does not consider the disparate recycling systems and needs of different materials and could ultimately harm Colorado’s paper recycling achievements in its wayward efforts to boost recycling rates for less-recycled materials.

Colorado faces some barriers to recycling access that are unique to the state due to low municipality funding and underdeveloped recycling programs, as well as geographic access issues in rural and mountainous areas. Since recycling programs in the U.S. are operated by local governments, it is critical that Colorado municipalities focus on ways to increase access to recycling. An EPR program will not solve these broader access issues and may disrupt successful paper recycling streams.

Proponents of a Colorado EPR program have pointed to the highly centralized programs in Canada and Europe as a rationale for why Colorado should implement a similar program. The evidence, however, suggests otherwise — there is no real proof that EPR programs in Canada and Europe offer any advantage over the market-based approaches and locally-operated programs prevalent in the U.S. In fact, a 2021 research paper performed by York University in Ontario concluded there is no evidence to indicate that the steward operated EPR program in Canada will result in cost containment or increased recycling performance.

EPR policies could also force companies to shift the economic burden of new recycling regulations to Coloradans. These added costs could hurt low-income households the most. American families cannot afford added economic costs at a time when many are struggling with financial hardship and record inflation.

Policies that curb pollution and strengthen recycling infrastructure are vital. However, the current proposal under consideration in Denver could imperil programs with decades of proven success. Instead, as the legislation moves to the Colorado Senate, lawmakers should consider the paper industry as a model to improve recycling rates for other materials statewide.

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Terry Webber
Terry Webber

Terry Webber is vice president of industry affairs at the American Forest & Paper Association in Washington, D.C.

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