2021 Legislation Moves the Needle on EPR and Plastic Packaging Litter

NOVEMBER 3, 2021

State lawmakers have made a big impact in 2021 on laws cementing legislation that shifts the burden of plastic packaging litter from the taxpayer, who had no role in creating it and back on to the brands and manufacturers who produce it. The COVID-19 pandemic has further amplified the need to manage and fund solutions for the proliferation of single use packaging and packaging from online purchases.

State of Recycling in the US

In 2018, the most recent year for which US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) data is available, only 17% of plastic containers and packaging were recycled.

In their 2020 report on recycling plastic, Republic Services stated that that 12% of the plastics it manages (specifically #3, 4, 6 and 7) “currently have limited or no end markets” and are generally disposed. Plastics account for 7.7% of the total recyclables marketed by the company.

Below is a more granular look at recycling data, all compiled by Republic Services from their recycling facilities across the US.

Over a dozen state bills were introduced in 2021 that were designed to hold packaging products of single use or hard to recycle plastics accountable for the costs associated with managing their material in the waste and recycling stream.

In July of this year Maine was the first state to pass their historic extended producer responsibility (EPR bill (LD 1541)) law for packaging. The law covers most types of consumer packaging and will require that producers make payments to a stewardship organization. The money will go into a fund local governments could then use to pay for packaging management costs. The law also includes an eco-modulation system meant to incentivize companies to create packaging that is easier to recycle and reuse.

Less than a month later, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown signed SB 582 into law on Friday, making Oregon the second state to pass an extended producer responsibility (EPR) law for packaging. Under the law, most producers will need to become a member of a producer responsibility organization (PRO). The PRO will need to submit an EPR plan to Oregon’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) by March 31, 2024 and begin implementing the plan by July 1, 2025. Local governments will be able to use producer funding for improvements such as recycling facility upgrades, increased collection services, certain transportation needs and contamination reduction programs, according to the bill.


Bill: HB 1162
Category: Plastics
Highlights: Bans single-use plastic bags at most stores and EPS takeout containers at most restaurants


Bill: SB 928
Category: Minimum Recycled Content
Highlights: Directs the DOE and Environmental Protection to create a plan for implementing a minimum recycled content policy


Bill: SB 1037
Category: Bottle Bill
Highlights: Doubles deposit value to 10 cents and expands types of containers accepted


Bill: SB 97
Category: Chemical Recycling
Highlights: Classifies advanced recycling as a manufacturing process rather than solid waste management


Bill: HB 0164
Category: Market Devlopement
Highlights: Encourages businesses and state agencies to develop markets for recycled materials and products

Rhode Island

Bill: H 5923
Category: Incineration
Highlights: Restricts “high-heat” medical waste processing facilities

Rhode Island

Bill: S 0155
Category: Plastics Ban
Highlights: Restricts single-use plastic straws in food service establishments


Bill: SB 1164
Category: Plastics Ban/Chemical Recycling
Highlights: Classifies advanced recycling as a manufacturing process rather than solid waste management; bans EPS foam foodservice containers


Bill: SB 5022
Category: Plastics Ban/PCR
Highlights: Increases recycled content in packaging, bans some types of EPS containers and makes single-use foodservice ware available only on request

It should come as no surprise that California had a seismic legislative year addressing climate change and plastic pollution. The following bills were signed into law by Gov. Newsom:

  • SB 343 – RECYCLING SYMBOLS Would prohibit the use of the chasing-arrows symbol or any other suggestion that a material is recyclable, unless the material is recyclable in most California communities and is routinely sold to manufacturers to make new products.
  • AB 881 – PLASTIC WASTE Closes an existing loophole in California law that allows mixed plastic exports to be counted as recycling regardless of their ultimate destination, which is often overseas landfills, incinerators or waterways.
  • AB 962 – REFILLABLE GLASS BEVERAGE CONTAINERS Would allow returnable glass (“refillable”) bottles to flow through the state’s Beverage Container Recycling Program.
  • AB 1276 – UNNECCESSARY FOOD SERVICEWARE Expands plastic straws upon request law to include other single-use food accessories, other food facilities, and third party delivery platforms – including food that is taken away, delivered, or served on-site.
  • AB 1201 – COMPOSTABLE PRODUCT STANDARDS  Will ensure that products labeled “compostable” are actually compostable and ensure harmful chemicals stay out of California’s compost stream.

Without waiting for Congress to act, states have begun proposing EPR legislation in response to the skyrocketing costs to recycle and weak domestic demand for recycled material and PCR content.

The year ahead in 2022 will see this legislative momentum continue. While EPR is one tool in the toolbox toward a more circular economy, engagement by all stakeholders are key.

  • Consumer education and consumer engagement is key.
  • Legislation that supports end market demand for recycled content and minimum PCR content requirement in packaging.
  • Continue shifting responsibility to brands to fund programs and encourage sustainable packaging innovations.
About Houston Poly

Houston Poly is a fully integrated, custom manufacturer of extruded polyethylene films, biodegradable and sustainable films, bags, shrink films and flexible packaging.

Do you have a custom poly film, sustainable / biodegradable application, or flexible packaging project that requires uncompromising performance and exceptional customer service?