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The Business Council has been advocating against the Extended Producer Responsibility Act (EPR). We believe New York State should not recycle a working model and instead should invest in its efficiencies.
New York State is already way ahead of most other states in being positioned to respond to the growing crisis in recycling. We already have a statewide program to recover and recycle reusable materials from our solid waste stream. We have had a comprehensive solid waste management planning process since 1987. We have had mandatory curbside collection, source separation and recycling programs since 1992 - the only state in the nation to have a such a statewide mandate. We have had state financial and technical assistance programs for municipal waste management efforts and for recycling markets since 1988.
Unfortunately, these programs have been given low priority and inadequate funding for years. The consequence of this neglect hit hard when China acted in 2018 and 2019 to sharply reduce their importation of waste materials for recycling. Suddenly, the state’s municipalities were scrambling to find markets for source separated materials, and they are now incurring rapidly increasing costs to deal with – and in many cases, simply dispose of – material that was collected for recycling.
What went wrong?
Over the past decade, New York’s solid waste management focus has been on specific waste streams, and we have adopted several new producer responsibility programs for targeted materials, including tires, car batteries, cell phones, paint, and others.
But little has been done for the state’s overall solid waste management and recycling efforts. New York’s solid waste management plan has not been updated since 2010. Fewer than half of the state’s counties are covered by approved solid waste management plans. The state invests $420 million annually – and more than $4 billion since 2010 – in its film production industry, but only $2 million or so a year to promote recycling markets.
We can and should do more, and spend more, to make our existing solid waste and recycling system work better.
What we do not need is to turn the current system on its head. The state legislature is considering a bill that would shift the full responsibility for operating and paying for municipal collection and source separation of recyclables onto newly created “producer responsibility organizations.” These PROs would act as quasi-government agencies, imposing assessments, making appropriations, and entering into agreements with local governments.
Such radical change will be costly, will carry its own risks of unintended consequences, and simply is not necessary to improve the state’s recycling and waste reduction outcomes.
Instead, the state should carefully assess what has been working well, what has not, and what are reasonable opportunities for improving waste reduction and recycling. Some waste streams, like corrugated paperboard, is already achieving more than 90 percent recovery and recycling levels. Other commonly collected materials have few current outlets. We need to understand the current state of material markets before we launch new policy initiatives.
With a good plan in place, the state should invest more in supporting municipal waste management planning. It should also invest in new technology and equipment used to collect, separate, and prepare post-secondary materials for market. It should promote the in-state development of secondary material processing and remanufacturing capacity – following the theme of other major New York State “green” initiatives to using our recycling programs to create in-state investments and jobs.
Yes, industry is ready and willing to participate in and help finance improved outcomes. We are willing to help develop targets for reduced raw material use and increased use of secondary materials. We are willing to help finance necessary investments in municipal recycling.
But addressing the state’s solid waste management challenges simply cannot be solved by industry alone. It will require coordinated efforts by industry, the state, municipalities, and New York residents. Together, we can regain New York State’s national leadership in waste management and recycling.