Lawmakers greenlight statewide recycling program funded by packaging producers

Proponents say it will incentivize responsible packaging, but opponents believe the cost will be passed to Colorado consumers.
Lawmakers give green light to statewide recycling program that will be funded by packaging producers
Posted at 11:41 PM, Apr 22, 2024
and last updated 2024-04-23 13:12:19-04

BOULDER, Colo. — Colorado lawmakers last week approved a program that aims to expand recycling across the entire state and will be funded by large packaging producers.

State Senator Lisa Cutter, D - Jefferson County, has been waiting for that decision.

“I’ve been pinching myself. We've just been waiting for so long for this final approval and crossing our fingers," Cutter said Monday. “There's been many advocates working on this issue for a long time, and I was really, really passionate about getting to zero waste in Colorado."

In 2022, Cutter was one of the prime sponsors of House Bill 22-1355, which created a Producer Responsibility Program under the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE). Since the passage of that legislation, the Circular Action Alliance was tasked with studying the recycling infrastructure, services, and costs before presenting an implementation plan before the Joint Budget Committee.

Large companies that sell packaging and paper products are involved in coordinating, funding and managing the statewide recycling system.

“Basically, we're off. The research is done, you know, they know what they need to do. And now they can begin implementing because they have the blessing of the legislature," said Cutter.

The Joint Budget Committee heard three variations of the process and ultimately decided to proceed with the "medium" scenario. Now, the Circular Action Alliance will work on detailing an implementation plan.

According to the Circular Action Alliance's presentation, the selected option for the recycling expansion would:

  • increase recycling rates from 25% to 44% by 2030, and up to 58% by 2035
  • create 5,700 jobs by 2030 and 7,900 jobs by 2035
  • recycle 720,000 tons of covered materials annually by 2035
  • expand curbside recycling to 500,000 households
  • expand recycling services in census-designated and rural areas to 100,000 - 200,000 more households

"Many countries and provinces have used this very successfully for decades where they require the producer of the packaging to pay a fee to help recycle those materials at the end of their life," said Cutter. “This law will hopefully help us recruit — well definitely help us — recycle so many more materials."
This version of the Producer Responsibility Program is estimated to cost producers anywhere from $190 million to $310 million by 2035.

“There has been thought given to how they're going to implement it so that producers don't pay all that right up front and how they can kind of roll it out," Cutter said. “It's going to take the burden off of citizens, consumers, local governments, the state and put the burden back on the people that are creating all this excessive packaging.”

Suzanne Jones is the executive director of Eco-Cycle, a nonprofit recycling organization that is the contracted operator of the Boulder County Recycling Center.

“We've been working on this policy for over a decade. It's a policy whose time has come," Jones said about the Producer Responsibility Program. “Maine, Oregon, and California have all adopted policies, but we're the second state to get this far in the process. And there's up to 10 other states that are now considering it in their own state legislatures.”

Jones said Colorado has one of the worst recycling rates in the country, largely because of a lack of recycling services throughout the state.

“When it's fully implemented, this program will bring free and convenient recycling to all Coloradans. So regardless of where you live in the state, you will now have access to recycling as convenient as your trash service," Jones explained. “It's good for the planet, it's good for economics, and it's good for the people of Colorado.”

Both Jones and Cutter said they are not concerned that the fees on large producers will translate to higher costs for consumers. They said in other places where similar models are already practiced, there is no significant increase in the final price of a product.

The Colorado Consumer Coalition, which does not support the program, said in a statement the program "will cost upwards of $260 million per year, fees that will inevitably be passed on to Colorado consumers at a time when inflation has made grocery runs a painful experience for most families."

Full statement:

The Colorado Consumer Coalition is disappointed by last week’s vote in the Joint Budget Committee, authorizing the boondoggle extended producer responsibility program to continue. This program will cost upwards of $260 million per year, fees that will inevitably be passed on to Colorado consumers at a time when inflation has made grocery runs a painful experience for most families.

This program was developed to hit arbitrary recycling targets without considering operational realities. While proponents wave around the potential 58% increase in recycling rates, it’s important to note that this program will not raise Colorado’s overall recycling rate by that amount. Rather, the state is projected to recycle that amount of the covered and nonexempted materials in the legislation – and that number is not realistic considering significantly lower actual recycling rate increases in Canadian provinces where the program has already been implemented. That only equates to recycling a projected 720 metric tons of material out of Colorado’s 7.1 million metric tons of yearly waste. We’re disappointed that the Joint Budget Committee did not see the obscene costs to this meager return as prohibitory to this program moving forward.

The Colorado Consumer Coalition will continue to act as a watch dog as the program plan is developed through the producer responsibility organization, Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and the Advisory Board.
Colorado Consumer Coalition

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