Albany Times Union
Put packaging waste responsibility where it belongs
New York state generates more than 17 million tons of municipal solid waste each year, with a lackluster recycling rate below 20 percent. Instead of being recycled, much of our waste is going to landfills, being burned in incinerators, or ending up as plastic pollution in our communities and waterways. Each year companies ship billions of products, exacerbating the paper and plastic waste crisis, yet they bear no responsibility for managing the packaging waste they create.
It’s time for corporations to take out their own trash. A growing coalition of environmental leaders, local government advocates and elected officials are backing legislation called the Packaging Reduction and Recycling Infrastructure Act (S.4246). It would reduce the amount of waste we generate, increase recycling, save taxpayers money, and help the state fight climate change — in fact, this policy was recommended in the Climate Action Council’s final climate scoping plan.
Currently, the financial burden of managing New York’s recyclable waste is placed on local governments and taxpayers. Municipalities, already working with stretched-thin budgets, are struggling with the costs of recycling, resulting in higher taxes or a significant reduction in the materials collected for recycling.
This bill will revolutionize New York’s approach to solid waste by shifting the cost of properly recycling product packaging and paper (e.g., plastic containers, steel cans, glass bottles, junk mail, and cardboard) to corporations — not taxpayers and local governments. Those who put packaging waste into the stream of commerce are best positioned to reduce the amount of packaging that’s created in the first place.
The Packaging Reduction
and Recycling Infrastructure Act requires large corporations to reduce paper and plastic packaging by 50 percent in 12 years, increase post-consumer recycled content in packaging, and invest in new reuse/refill infrastructure. The bill also includes strong oversight and enforcement provisions to ensure that corporations are complying with the law.
Maine, Colorado, Oregon, and California have passed similar bills, and the policy has been in effect in parts of Europe and Canada for decades. Where fully implemented, recycling rates exceed 70 percent, and the cost of consumer goods has not increased.
We are pleased that a similar proposal is included in Gov. Kathy Hochul’s executive budget. Sen. Harckham’s bill, however, also focuses on eliminating toxic chemicals in packaging. This bill would ban the use of a number of the most toxic substances in packaging — including lead, mercury, and the “forever chemicals” known as PFAS — and sets up a process to add more toxic substances to the list in the future.
Given the massive budget implications of the measure, it is critical that it gets passed as part of the state budget. For the state to properly oversee the development and implementation of the new program, the Department of Environmental Conservation will need to add staff. Without additional staff, we would almost certainly see delays with implementation and a lack of oversight.
This sensible legislation promises to save money for municipalities and taxpayers, remove toxic substances from packaging, increase recycling, and require producers to cut waste. The public needs this type of tax relief and environmental bill. We need the Assembly to step up and support this measure.