What is Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR)?

Rethinking our Waste: Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR)

The Problem: Connecticut’s waste sector is, again, at a critical juncture.   The current waste management infrastructure is aging and in need of expensive upgrades.  The Hartford trash-to-energy facility has closed down and more trash is being diverted to out of state landfills.  This puts CT municipalities, and residents, at the mercy of other states, has negative consequences for the environment, and results in greater volatility in disposal costs over the long term.  According to the CT Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, regional landfill capacity will shrink by 40% in the next 5 years.  Then, if advancements are made, trash will need to be shipped even further away. 

As we consider this pressing problem, municipalities are struggling with the ever-changing landscape of trash and recycling. Just like everything, pricing continues to increase.  Funding for municipal recycling programs cannot match the ups and downs of the global markets.  Packaging changes and single use items have increased the amount of trash due to limited recycling options.  Costs to manage items that are hard to dispose of, such as tires and hazardous waste, are rising. Many items, like sharps, and smoke detectors, should be removed from the waste stream but have no recovery programs. 

The Solution: We must reduce and rethink how we handle waste. This means everyone, not just individuals, but governments, businesses and manufacturers of products as well. Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) is one tool we can use to address our trash problem. EPR is a mandatory policy requiring manufacturers take responsibility for their product and packaging through all life cycle stages, including disposal.   

CT has been at the forefront in supporting and implementing EPR programs. Leaders have brought diverse stakeholders together to develop EPR programs for electronics, mattresses, paint, mercury thermostats, and most recently, gas cylinders.   These programs have had a significant impact, saving municipalities millions of dollars in disposal costs; creating jobs; and developing reliable, more effective, financially stable, and environmentally sustainable and equitable, recycling programs for these items. In addition, by involving producers in product disposal, EPR encourages them to design their products  with the environment in mind.  

In Middletown, we have saved tens of thousands of dollars and been able to offer stable recycling programs for materials managed through an EPR system.  

Electronics – Electronics EPR was passed in 2008 and implemented shortly after that. Residents can now bring ewaste to the Recycling Center at no charge.   Prior to the EPR program,  the City paid a fee to recycle computers and televisions and staff spent significant amounts of time vetting companies, to make sure the materials were actually be recycled, and not just sent downstream to improper disposal somewhere else.  With the EPR program the State has a process to review recycling companies and then provides a list of approved ewaste vendors.  The City is assured the material is being managed properly and manufacturers pay the cost of recycling. Residents can bring in their items at no charge.  

Paint – In 2011 the Paint EPR legislation passed.  A product stewardship organization called Paintcare was formed to fund and manage the paint recycling program.  Participating retailers such as Ace Hardware on South Main Street and Sherwin Williams stores participate in the program and offer free drops offs for paint.  The City continues to take paint (latex and oil based) at its household hazardous waste collections, but the cost of recycling it is handled by Paintcare, thus helping the City manage the ever escalating HHW costs.  Some towns have been able to offer a drop off of paint at their transfer stations, but Middletown has not been able to do this yet.   

Mattresses – In 2013, the cost of disposing mattresses exploded. Many towns were paying $30 or more per mattress and the costs escalated quickly.   The State passed a stewardship program for mattress, and manufacturers formed the Mattress Recycling Council.  Now, many town participate in the program, offering their residents free recycling of mattresses and box springs.  In Middletown, residents can bring these items to the Middletown Recycling Center.  The metal springs are turned into valuable metal products; the wood frames get chipped into mulch, the foam is processed into carpet underlay, and the cotton material is reprocessed into insulation.   

Thermostats -The City of Middletown also participates in the thermostat recycling program.  Mercury thermostats (not digital ones) can be brought to Public Works in City Hall for proper disposal or to a HHW collection day.   

Gas Cylinders - CT municipalities have faced significant challenges in managing pressurized gas cylinders (1 lb – 20 lbs), including increased costs, explosions in trucks and at facilities, injuries, damaged equipment and litter left in state and municipal parks.  The Connecticut Product Stewardship Council (CTPSC) introduced Cylinder EPR legislation and passed it in 2022.  Program details are being formalized now, and soon a program will be in place to make it easier to dispose of gas cylinders properly.  

2022 Legislation  

It is important to note that EPR programs are mandatory programs.  In order to make it a fair system, all producers must be required to participate.   This means legislation is necessary.    

In the upcoming legislative session, we will be watching for the following EPR initiatives: 

Tire EPR – Illegally dumped tires have long plagued rivers, forests and parks causing severe environmental problems.  Removal and disposal have cost municipalities, taxpayers and private landowners several thousands of dollars each year.  The Connecticut River Conservancy has removed over 11,000 tires from the Connecticut River Watershed in the last 15 years.  Tire EPR incentivizes manufacturers to find innovative ways to recycle tires, and rethink tire design and engineering.  Introduction of tire EPR in Ontario virtually eliminated illegal tire dumping, and can do the same here in CT. An EPR program for tires in Middletown would mean residents could bring tires into the recycling center at no charge and saving the City at least $15,000 annually.  

Paper and Packaging EPR –Stakeholders have been discussing a stewardship program for paper and packaging for a few years now.  This program would include everything put in the recycling cart, and ideally, incentivize source reduction and reusables.  Residential recycling programs, municipal or private, need sustained financial support to maintain and expand collection.   Very few programs can secure adequate funding for the level of education and investment needed for effective recycling.  Other countries, including Canada and those in Europe and Asia, already have transitioned to EPR paper and packaging systems and the programs are quite successful. Recycling rates have increased, contamination rates have declined and costs have shifted to producers.  CT DEEP has estimated EPR for packaging would save CT municipalities over $40 million and 190,000 tons of municipal solid waste.  In Middletown, officials have estimated it to would save $50,000 in municipal costs, with an additional savings for customers using a private subscription service.   

In 2021, the Common Council passed a resolution in support of EPR for Packaging.  The City is also an active member of the CT Product Stewardship Council.  

For more information on EPR check these websites: 

https://portal.ct.gov/DEEP/P2/Product-Stewardship/Product-Stewardship

https://www.productstewardship.us/

Extended Producer Responsibility 101 Recreation Recycles Video

Thank you to Kelsey Wentling from the CT River Conservancy and Jennifer Heaton-Jones from HRRA for contributing to the information on this page.