Business groups push back on New York plastics recycling plan

If approved, New York would become the latest state, including Maine, Oregon, California, and Colorado, to approve the so-called extended producer responsibility law.

Published: June 7, 2023 11:00pm

(The Center Square) -

(The Center Square) — Business groups are criticizing a New York legislative proposal to reduce plastic use and increase recycling in the state, arguing that it would drive up consumer costs and won't reduce pollution.

An amended proposal, which the Legislature could take up before the end of the session this week, would require companies that sell packaged goods to reduce single-use plastic products by 50% and charge them a fee to use them. The revenue would be diverted to local governments to help fund waste reduction efforts and recycling.

Backers of the revised bill say it would save New York cities and towns as much as $250 million annually while reducing plastic pollution and increasing recycling.

"The tremendous amount of waste that we create each day is polluting our communities and costing local municipalities — and taxpayers — millions of dollars each year," said state Sen. Peter Harkham, D-South Salem, one of the bill's primary sponsors.

"Much of our waste is recyclable, and the best and most effective way we can begin to mitigate our waste crisis, which is already impacting our natural resources statewide, is for the initial producers of this waste to be fully involved with the end-of-life solutions," he added.

Local governments support the changes, saying it will shift the burden of waste management from local governments and taxpayers to producers who distribute packaging, creating a more "sustainable and equitable" system.

“Packaging waste poses significant challenges to our communities, straining resources and threatening the viability of local recycling programs," said Stephen Acquario, executive director of the New York State Association of Counties. "It is time for producers to play an active role in reducing both the environmental footprint of their products and the financial burden counties and municipalities bear in disposing of them.”

But business leaders are pushing back, saying the move would drive up costs and limit consumer choices.

In a letter to legislative leaders, a coalition of groups, including the American Chemistry Council, New York State Economic Development Council and The Business Council of New York State, raised several concerns about the provisions of the bill and about the push to approve the measure before the end of the legislative session.

"With just a few days left in the legislative session, these amendments were put forth without meaningful stakeholder input or robust detailed discussion of the complex provisions," they wrote. "There is limited opportunity for stakeholders to provide public comments and for legislators to consider comments and evaluate the bill on its merit."

"This overly broad prohibition disregards sound science and could potentially have major unintended socioeconomic, environmental, and public health consequences by arbitrarily eliminating packaging best suited for, among other uses, food preservation, medical supply and device protection and hazardous materials containers," they wrote.

If approved, New York would become the latest state, including Maine, Oregon, California, and Colorado, to approve the so-called extended producer responsibility law.

The bill targets companies such as Amazon that make more than $1 million in profits annually. It would expand the list of heavy metals currently banned under the state's Hazardous Packaging Act to include PFAS chemicals, flame retardants, perchlorate, formaldehyde, toluene, PVC and other compounds.

The bill would require producers to reduce packaging by 10% of weight within three years, 20% by five years, 30% by eight years, 40% by 10 years and 50% by 12 years. Glass products would need to be 35% post-consumer recycled content, paper carryout bags should be 40% and plastic bags should be 20%, under the proposal.

The New York Restaurant Association has also come out against the changes, saying the measure unfairly targets businesses that have no control over plastics production or municipal recycling programs.

"Restaurants are not producers of packaging. And they do not have the ability to dictate the types of materials made available to them,” Melissa Fleischut, the association's CEO and president, said in a statement. “On top of that, they face limited choices restricted by state and local sanitary codes requiring food grade packaging."

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