Guide to North American
EPR Packaging Regulations
Consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies face a growing list of new regulations that will significantly impact not only their products and packaging but their sustainability approach as a whole. Legislation like extended producer responsibility (EPR) incentivizes companies to adapt their packaging material choices and design, supporting the transition to a more circular economy. This could mean actions from designing easier-to-deconstruct packaging for end-of-life recycling to simplifying existing product packaging to reduce material use and waste.
The information contained in this article is intended for general information purposes only and is based on information available as of the initial date of publication. No representation is made that the information or references are complete or remain current. This article is not a substitute for a review of current applicable government regulations, industry standards, or other standards specific to your business and/or activities and should not be construed as legal advice or opinion. Readers with specific questions should refer to the applicable standards or consult with an attorney. It is the customer's responsibility to determine whether its filled product is subject to any applicable government regulations and to ensure compliance with such regulations.
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In this guide, we define EPR, describe how it works, explain how EPR will impact CPG companies, and provide an overview of North American EPR packaging regulations.
What Is EPR?
Extended producer responsibility refers to a policy approach or principle in which producers (i.e., brand owners, manufacturers of packaged goods, finished product importers/distributors) are responsible for the entire life cycle of their products and packaging, with a special emphasis on product end-of-life (e.g., recycling, composting, disposal). That responsibility may be financial (e.g., fees) and/or operational services.
EPR shifts the responsibility of managing packaging waste from local municipalities to the producers of packaged goods. It employs a target-based approach, establishing performance targets for both the recycling rates of packaging materials and the amounts of recycled content (i.e., post-consumer recycled content resins) in the packaging. This focus on supply (higher recycling rates) and demand (greater percentages of recycled content) is designed to drive sustainable packaging and products for a more circular economy.
How EPR Works
In most cases, EPR legislation either recommends or requires CPG producers to join a collective producer responsibility organization (PRO), which develops a plan and manages the program. However, some programs allow companies to comply without joining the PRO, which is typically a nonprofit organization.
Many EPR programs require producers to pay annual fees to the PRO to manage the program and achieve the performance targets for the covered products. Such fees generally cover collection, sorting, and processing of the used packaging but could also extend to public outreach and education, recycling infrastructure improvements, and end-market investments for recycled materials.
EPR regulations are enforced through reporting obligations and penalties for failing to meet the legislative requirements and performance targets.
Eco-Modulation: How Producer Fees Are Determined
Eco-modulation is an EPR policy that sets CPG producers' fees based on the environmental impact of their packaging. In general, producers of packaged goods will pay higher fees or penalties for harder-to-recycle, hazardous, or environmentally harmful materials. Conversely, packaging that is recyclable, minimally designed, lightweight, renewably sourced, made with recycled content, refillable, reusable, returnable, or has a reduced environmental impact will typically carry lower fees.
United States EPR Packaging Laws
Compared to other parts of the world, the United States is a latecomer to EPR packaging regulations. However, in the past two years, 4 states have passed EPR legislation for packaging, and 11 states introduced packaging-related EPR bills in 2022.
Below, we break down four U.S. states with EPR packaging laws on the books.
In the summer of 2022, California passed the most stringent EPR regulations to date in the U.S. This law creates an extended producer responsibility organization (PRO) and program to compel CPG companies and plastic resin manufacturers to pay for improvements in package recycling and plastic pollution mitigation.
The legislation establishes timelines for the creation of the PRO, graduated recycling rates for plastics and other types of single-use packaging, reductions in single-use plastics through the elimination of plastic packaging or switching to reuse and refill systems, and a target for packaging to be either recyclable or compostable.
Exemptions to the EPR legislation include PET beverages (covered by the state's bottle law), medical products and prescription drugs, medical foods, infant formula, and hazardous materials. Companies (producers, wholesalers, and retailers of consumer packaged goods) with less than $1 million in gross sales per year in the state are also exempt.
Source: Senate Bill No. 54
Key implementation dates:
- Jan. 1, 2024 – Covered companies must form and join an extended producer responsibility organization.
- 2027–2037 – The PRO will collect $500 million per year from CPG companies for a plastic pollution mitigation fund and is also authorized to collect up to $150 million from plastic resin manufacturers.
- Jan. 1, 2028 – 30% of plastics and other types of single-use packaging must be recyclable.
- Jan. 1, 2030 – 40% of plastics and other types of single-use packaging must be recyclable.
- Jan. 1, 2032 – 65% of plastics and other types of single-use packaging must be recyclable.
- Jan. 1, 2032 – All plastics and other types of single-use packaging are required to be either recyclable or compostable.
Enacted in June 2022, Colorado's EPR legislation will require CPG companies to pay annual dues to fully fund a statewide recycling program for packaging. The dues will be based on the type and volume of packaging sold and distributed in the state.
Companies with annual state revenues of less than $5 million are exempt from the legislation. Other exemptions include companies that have used less than one ton of the covered packaging materials in the prior calendar year. Some pharmaceutical products are also exempt.
Proponents of the legislation view it as a means to increase Colorado's 15% combined recycling and composting rate (which is half the U.S. national average) and extend recycling services to rural communities.
Source: Producer Responsibility Program for Statewide Recycling Act
Key implementation dates:
- June 1, 2023 – The executive director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment must designate a nonprofit organization to implement and manage a statewide recycling program.
- Sept. 1, 2023 – The organization must hire an independent third party to conduct a needs assessment of the state's recycling services.
- April 1, 2024 – The organization must report the needs assessment results.
- Feb. 1, 2025 – The organization must submit a plan proposal for the statewide recycling program after soliciting input from an advisory board and other key stakeholders.
- July 1, 2025 – A producer (brand owner) may not sell or distribute any products that use the covered packaging materials in the state unless the producer is participating in the program. CPG companies also have the option to submit their own individual program plan proposal to the advisory board by January 1, 2025, and must notify the department of their intent to submit the proposal by January 1, 2024.
In August 2021, Oregon passed an EPR law establishing a producer responsibility program for packaging. Brand owners selling the covered packaged products will pay fees to support the improvement and expansion of recycling programs and infrastructure statewide. Several factors, including recyclability, use of post-consumer recycled content, and the life-cycle impacts of the materials, will determine the fees.
Based on market share, the 25 largest producers of covered products will be required to perform life-cycle assessments every two years on 1% of their products sold in the state.
Under the Oregon program, CPG company payments will cover about one-quarter of the costs of an efficient recycling system. Producers will not fund the costs of collection, which will continue to be paid for by residential and commercial customers.
Oregon's program will exclude beverage containers covered under its existing container deposit rules. Other exemptions include prescription drugs, infant formula, medical foods, and architectural paints.
Source: Senate Bill 582
Key implementation dates:
- Jan. 1. 2022 – Law goes into effect.
- Late 2022 – The first rulemaking process begins with draft rules submitted by late 2023.
- March 31, 2024 – Producer responsibility organizations (PROs) must submit a program plan to the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). These plans include annual membership fees for producers. PROs may form at any time before that date.
- July 1, 2025 – PROs must begin implementing a DEQ-approved plan.
- July 1, 2025 – Individual producers/brand owners are required to join a PRO.
- July 1, 2025 – PROs will pay a contamination management fee to commingled recycling processing facilities to cover the costs of removing and disposing of covered products that are not accepted in recycling collection programs.
- July 1, 2025 – PROs will pay a commodity risk fee to commingled recycling processing facilities to stabilize the cost of recycling.
In July 2021, Maine became the first state in the U.S. to pass EPR legislation for packaging waste. The law establishes an EPR program, which requires producers of packaged goods to bear most of the costs of recycling and waste disposal programs in the state. Brand owners selling packaged goods will pay fees on all packaging materials based on the recycling costs for each material. The fee structure will include financial incentives for recyclable and more sustainable packaging.
While the law covers most consumer-packaged goods in Maine, some exceptions include beverage containers (covered by the state's container deposit program), long-term storage containers, paint containers, and other materials. The EPR program will use producer payments to cover operational costs, pay department fees, and invest in consumer education, product collection, and recycling infrastructure to reduce future packaging waste in Maine.
Source: H.P. 1146 - L.D. 1541
Key implementation dates:
- July 2022 – Funding becomes available for program administration, hiring staff for program development and oversight.
- July 2022–December 2023 – Stakeholder outreach for rule development.
- Dec. 31, 2023 – Deadline to initiate rulemaking with the Board of Environmental Protection.
- Summer 2024 – Anticipated adoption of routine/technical rules and provisional adoption of major substantive rules by the Board.
- Feb. 15, 2025 – First program update report due to the state legislature.
- 2025 – Submittal of major/substantive rules to the legislature for approval.
- Spring/summer 2025 – Anticipated final adoption of major substantive rules by the Board.
- Fall 2025 – Issue RFP for stewardship organization.
- 2026 – Selection of stewardship organization.
- 2026 – First producer payments. Payments are due no later than 180 days after the effective date of the stewardship organization contract.
- 2027 – First payments to municipalities.
Canadian EPR Packaging Laws
Similar to the U.S., Canada does not have a national or federal EPR packaging law. However, EPR programs are firmly entrenched in Canada, thanks largely to the efforts of the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment (CCME). CCME is comprised of an intergovernmental group of environment ministers from federal, provincial, and territorial governments and has actively promoted extended producer responsibility since the late 1990s. In 2009, CCME published the Canada-Wide Action Plan for Producer Responsibility.
The 52-page report called for the harmonization of EPR programs across Canada using the following principles:
- Encourage producers to design products to minimize environmental and human health impacts.
- Transfer end-of-life responsibility for waste products or materials to producers and importers from municipalities and other waste management authorities.
- Give producers and importers the responsibility for program design, operation, and funding.
- Give governments the responsibility for setting performance targets, creating a level playing field for producers and importers, and ensuring the public has free and open access.
CCME continues to push for greater producer responsibility, including transforming product stewardship initiatives into full EPR programs. Many Canadian provinces and territories either operate or are working on packaging-related EPR programs. Let's take a look at them and some recent developments.
In December 2021, the government of Alberta passed the Environmental Protection and Enhancement Amendment Act, which creates an EPR framework for managing single-use plastics, packaging, and paper products.
The new framework shifts the operations and finances associated with collecting, sorting, processing, and recycling packaging waste from local governments and taxpayers to the brand owners and industries that make the products. It also supports Alberta's transition to a plastics circular economy.
Alberta's new EPR regulations were approved on Oct. 3, 2022, and became effective on November 30, 2022. Producers of single-use products, packaging, and printed paper (PPP) must verify collection and management plans by April 1, 2024. EPR systems for PPP are required to be operational by April 1, 2025.
In 2011, British Columbia amended its recycling regulations, requiring businesses that supply packaging to be responsible for collecting and recycling their products. Implemented in 2014, this rule shifted recycling costs from taxpayers to producers and gave producers added incentive to be ecologically minded by producing less packaging and waste.
As a result of EPR regulation for residential packaging and paper, recycling businesses have invested over CAD $45 million into B.C.'s recycling infrastructure. Since 2014, producers have successfully operated an efficient province-wide recycling system that collects and manages over 186,000 tons of packaging and paper materials annually. Most materials are collected through curbside residential programs.
As part of its EPR Five-Year Action Plan 2021–2026, B.C. is exploring greater recycling opportunities and policy options for industrial, commercial, and institutional packaging-related waste. These products are found in office buildings, warehouses, stadiums, grocery stores, food service outlets, institutions, and agricultural applications.
Source: Advancing Recycling in B.C.
In 2010, Manitoba launched a shared EPR program for packaging and paper recycling, with the costs apportioned to industry/producers (80%) and municipalities (20%). Currently, the government of Manitoba is reviewing a proposed plan to transition to a full EPR program that is 100% funded and managed by the industry.
In 2019, the government of New Brunswick announced plans to establish an extended producer responsibility program for packaging and paper products. Brand owners were required to register with Recycle NB by Feb. 11, 2022. A Producer Responsibility Organization (PRO) must submit a stewardship plan by Oct. 14, 2022. Implementation of the packaging-related EPR program will begin in 2023.
Source: Packaging and Paper Products
In October 2021, Nova Scotia introduced the Extended Producer Responsibility and Paper and Packaging Act, which directs the government to develop and implement an EPR program that shifts the responsibility for end-of-life management of products from municipalities to producers. Consultations are ongoing.
In 2002, Ontario became Canada's first province to legislate a shared EPR program for packaging and printed paper. Implemented in 2004, the program required the industry to be responsible for 50% of the costs of operating a recycling system for the waste. Municipalities funded the remaining costs.
In 2021, Ontario announced changes to its EPR program, including the expansion to more communities, standardizing the list of materials that can be recycled, and expanding collection to more facilities — apartment buildings, retirement and long-term care homes, and schools.
The changes will also transition the costs of the EPR program away from municipal taxpayers by making the producers of products and packaging fully responsible for managing the life cycle of their products, resulting in an estimated savings of CAD $156 million annually for municipalities. The changes will be phased in from 2023 through 2025.
In 2006, Quebec launched an EPR packaging program, with producers paying some of the costs and municipalities managing the recycling operations. Since 2013, the industry has covered all of the costs of curbside collection and recycling, with municipalities remaining in charge of the operations.
Because of changes in end-market economics, Quebec announced revisions to its EPR packaging program in 2020. Brand owners will be responsible for their products' entire life cycle (including sorting, processing, and recycling). They will be required to hit performance targets (e.g., 75% recycling rate) for both collection and recycling. The transition to the new EPR model will run from 2022 to 2024, with full deployment in 2025.
Source: Modernized Selective Collection
In 2012, Saskatchewan passed The Household Packaging and Paper Stewardship Program Regulations, which required industry/producers to finance up to 75% of the cost of recycling programs for residential waste packaging and paper.
In May 2022, Saskatchewan released draft regulations proposing a transition to a full EPR packaging model, where the industry assumes total operational and financial responsibility for collecting and recycling packaging and paper products. After the regulations are finalized and approved, a producer responsibility organization (PRO) will develop a product stewardship program in consultation with stakeholders and municipalities throughout 2023. A new program for packaging and paper could potentially begin implementation in 2024.
Source: Multi-Material Recycling Program
The Yukon government is committed to implementing an EPR program for packaging by 2025. To achieve its goal, the government will conduct stakeholder and public engagement, draft the regulation, and allow time for producers to organize and establish extended producer responsibility programs.
Glossary of EPR Terms
Advanced or Chemical Recycling: A process that converts mixed, post-use plastics into chemical building blocks, specialty polymers, and feedstocks to create new plastics.
Closed-Loop Recycling: A recycling process that reuses post-consumer recycled (PCR) content materials to create a new version of the same or similar product.
Container Deposit Return: Also known as "bottle bills," container deposit return systems charge a deposit fee at the point-of-purchase and refund the fee when the container is returned to the retailer, collection center, or reverse vending machine. Such systems significantly increase the recycling rates of the affected packaging.
Covered Products: The types of packaging, market segments, and product categories that are subject to the EPR regulations
Eco-Modulation: A fee structure based on the environmental impact of the packaging that incentivizes materials and designs with a lower carbon footprint
Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR): An environmental policy that makes producers wholly responsible for the entire life cycle of their products, with a special emphasis on end-of-life (e.g., recycling, composting, disposal).
Life-Cycle Assessment (LCA): A methodology to determine the carbon footprint and quantify the environmental impact of packaging throughout its entire life — material sourcing, design, manufacturing, storage, distribution, usage, and disposal.
Mechanical Recycling: A system that converts packaging waste into secondary raw materials through mechanical processes, such as sorting, grinding, washing, extrusion, and reprocessing.
Post-consumer recycled content (PCR): Retail packaging materials (e.g., glass, plastic, aluminum) that have been recycled and reprocessed for use in the manufacture of new packaging.
Producer Responsibility Organization (PRO): An organization that acts on behalf of producers to implement the EPR program and manage the collection of fees and/or recycling operations.
Producer: A brand owner, licensee, or importer that sells products.
Product Stewardship: An environmental policy that shares the responsibility and costs of managing the life cycle of products among producers, local municipalities, and taxpayers.
Single-Use Plastics/Packaging: A product intended to be used once and then discarded.