Albany Times Union
One-size-fits-all laws could hurt existing recycling efforts
By any measure, the recovery and recycling of paper in New York is a great success. Paper manufacturers across New York purchase and recycle millions of tons of recovered paper every year. As Gov. Kathy Hochul looks to advance legislation to require extended producer responsibility for packaging and paper, she and the state Legislature should avoid one-size-fits-all policy proposals that would imperil the success of New York’s paper recycling system.
Last year, several bills on extended producer responsibility – also known as EPR – were proposed in the Legislature. But none of them took the time to understand the knock-on effects such sweeping changes would have on New York’s current recycling system. A more nuanced approach would focus on boosting recycling for materials with low recovery rates while protecting paper’s continued success.
For decades, the paper industry has been committed to data-driven producer responsibility, and paper was one of the first manufacturing sectors to voluntarily set quantifiable sustainability goals. Why? Because recovered paper is valuable and can be recycled again and again. Thanks to these efforts, the national paper recycling rate climbed to 68 percent last year, equaling the highest rate previously achieved. More paper by weight is recovered for recycling from municipal waste streams annually than plastic, glass, steel, and aluminum combined. And New Yorkers have been instrumental to this success, as nearly 90 percent of residents have access to curbside paper recycling. The paper industry has voluntarily allotted $5 billion in sustainability investments by the end of 2024 to improve our capacity to use recycled fibers in paper products. These investments will bolster the end markets that are critical to ensuring that paper fibers are recycled for use in new products.
It’s in New York’s best interests to understand where recycling is today to help iden
tify any improvements. Before passing EPR legislation, New York must conduct a statewide needs assessment to set measurable and realistic recycling goals. The state has not conducted a solid waste assessment in years, so it’s not clear where the numbers included in current proposals come from. The governor’s EPR bill calls for a needs assessment “subject to available appropriations,” yet she does not propose appropriations for such an assessment.
Lawmakers must also recognize that paper needs a continuous feedstock of young, strong fibers into the recycling process. Mandatory post-consumer contents on all paper could hurt fiber quality and negatively impact two of New York’s largest paper producers – Finch Paper in Glens Falls and Sylvamo in Ticonderoga.
Finally, it is imperative that the Legislature takes the time to address this complex issue in a standalone bill, one that will examine the impacts of EPR policies on the state economy, rather than in the time-limited state budget process.
Paper products are part of New York’s recycling solution. We urge policymakers in Albany to focus on improving recycling rates for materials with low recovery rates instead of creating mandates and fees for paper producers. That’s the best way to protect the historic success of our state’s paper recycling system.