“We can’t waste time”: Just Zero launches model legislation on US packaging waste management
24 Feb 2023 --- Just Zero has published model legislation to aid government and policymakers in improving waste management infrastructure in the US. The non-profit advocates for implementing a packaging reduction and recycling act, deposit return schemes (DRS), anti-incineration laws, single-use plastic restrictions and food waste reduction policies.
Speaking to PackagingInsights, Peter Blair, policy director at Just Zero, says, “we need help educating both legislators and the public about how broken and toxic our current waste management systems are and how new comprehensive policies can address this.”
“Zero Waste policy is something many legislators still aren’t familiar with. Backlash to the growing plastic pollution crisis has helped draw attention to the need for reduced plastic production and disposal and improved recycling systems,” he asserts.
Many politicians aren’t aware of the policies that can help achieve needed changes in these areas, Blair explains. “Legislators have an incredibly challenging job. They’re expected to be experts and weigh in on proposals on a wide range of issues.”
“We need more grassroots environmental groups and members of the public to prioritize these issues.”
Just Zero’s package of six model legislation is composed of:
- Packaging Reduction and Recycling Act – requires companies that sell products using single-use packaging to help fund reuse and refill programs and recycling services. These companies must also meet packaging reduction requirements. Lawmakers and advocates have used principles in this model legislation in bills introduced in Rhode Island, New York, Massachusetts and Minnesota.
- Bottle Bill – requires all beverages sold in the state to have a refundable DRS that is returned when the customer brings back the empty container for recycling. Currently, only ten states have a Bottle Bill. Elements of this model bill are included in bottle bill legislation introduced in Rhode Island.
- Trash-Burning Ban – prohibits states from issuing permits or a license to incinerators and other high-heat waste processing facilities. Lawmakers in Maine and Rhode Island have relied on this model bill.
- Single-Use Plastic Reduction Act – bans single-use plastic bags and polystyrene foam food ware products and implements a straw-by-request policy. This bill has been used in Massachusetts.
- Skip the Stuff policy – prohibits restaurants and other food service providers from giving out single-use food ware unless the customer requests it. This bill has been used in Massachusetts.
- Food Waste Prevention and Recycling bill – slowly bans food waste disposal in landfills or incinerators. Requires excess edible food to be donated for human or agricultural purposes and food scraps to be composted or anaerobically digested. Lawmakers in Maine have introduced a food waste prevention bill that incorporates elements from this model legislation.
Harmonizing US infrastructure
Blair says the model legislation points should, to the greatest extent possible, be harmonized throughout the US, especially with Bottle Bills and Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) for packaging laws.
“There is a renewed interest in Bottle Bills throughout the country, which is leading to several competing ideas for what these new programs should look like. The same is happening with EPR for packaging,” he explains.
“Just Zero developed all our model legislation by looking at existing programs and policies to determine what is working, what isn’t, and what needs to be expanded or improved. We know that every state is different.”
“They have different regulatory systems, goals, and needs. We designed our model Packaging Reduction and Recycling Act, as well as the model Bottle Bill, to set up strong and effective programs while still giving state environmental agencies the flexibility to tailor the programs to the needs of their state,” Blair continues.
Lack of progress, growing pollution
Currently, the US is far from reaching the waste reduction and recycling goals set out in Just Zero’s model legislation, which Blair says is no surprise.
“We haven’t had any meaningful, comprehensive new laws or policies related to waste reduction or diversion in years. The lack of action from Congress has set us back,” he says.
“Thankfully, states are stepping up because they are seeing the public health and environmental impacts associated with unsustainable waste management systems.”
Blair asserts that greenwashing and industry opposition is still a major challenge to implementing such model policies.
“Plastic pollution has become one of the biggest environmental and public health challenges of this century. And these impacts are predominantly felt by low-income and Black communities.”
“We’re facing an uphill battle. Many companies are still opposing common sense measures or supporting false solutions such as ‘chemical’ or ‘advanced’ recycling. Instead of supporting false solutions to the plastic pollution crisis, it is imperative that lawmakers take action on plastic reduction,” he stresses.
“We can’t waste time. We need to pass stronger laws that address this problem now.”
By Louis Gore-Langton
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