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Recycling shouldn’t be all on you: We need companies to take responsibility

The holiday season is upon us, and you may be feeling flooded with boxes, bags, and other packaging associated with holiday shopping. Knowing how to correctly recycle these materials can feel like a personal responsibility — but have you ever considered the role of companies that make packaged goods in reducing packaging waste and making it easy to recycle?

At SPU, we are proud to offer high quality recycling services and collect a wide variety of packaging types. But it’s a challenge to keep up with the growing amount and complexity of packaging: Thirty thousand new consumer packaged goods are launched each year, many with new packaging designs that aren’t compatible with our recycling programs. More packaging leads to confusion, higher service costs, and unnecessary waste. But what if there was a way to hold producers—the companies that make packaged goods—responsible for managing and improving our current recycling system and eliminating unnecessary packaging?

This idea is the heart of a policy known as producer responsibility. These types of programs are in place in many countries and have significantly increased recycling rates. Seeing the success of these programs in other places, producer responsibility is becoming increasingly popular in the U.S. California, Oregon, Colorado, and Maine have passed producer responsibility laws and many other states—including Washington—are considering them. SPU is supportive of a producer responsibility program in Washington State because it would benefit our residents and support our Zero Waste mission by reducing packaging waste and increasing recycling.

So, what does producer responsibility do?

A producer responsibility program would modernize Washington’s recycling system by requiring manufacturers and brands to come together to reduce unnecessary packaging and paper, fund statewide recycling services, and ensure that materials are actually recycled. Having a statewide, producer-led and producer-funded recycling system would benefit Seattle residents and improve recycling.

A producer responsibility program would:

  1. Increase transparency: The program would have reporting requirements so that residents and local governments can be reassured that what you are putting in your bin actually gets recycled. Producers would also need to set recycling and reuse targets and ensure we are all working together to recycle and reuse more.
  2. Hold producers accountable: Producers would pay fees on packaging, creating incentives to eliminate unnecessary packaging and design more recyclable packaging. Fees would be used to pay for recycling services for Washingtonians, reducing costs for residents and local governments. They would also fund infrastructure investments to make recycling systems more efficient and effective. And they would support multicultural education and outreach efforts to help residents recycle better.
  3. Create a statewide standardized list of recyclable materials: Having a statewide standard list of recyclable materials will make recycling easier for residents and increase the quality and quantity of materials being recycled. This would significantly reduce the amount of recyclable materials going to landfills.

SPU will be working with Washington’s State Legislature in the upcoming 2023 Legislative Session to provide feedback on the producer responsibility program for paper and packaging. You can rest assured that your utility is working on producer accountability for packaging to reduce waste and make recycling easier for you!

Learn more about producer responsibility for paper and packaging here: Northwest Product Stewardship Council and let us know what you think about these issues!