Hearings were held on January 17 for Senate Bill 5154, prime sponsored by Senator Christine Rolfes (D-23), and its companion, House Bill 1131, prime sponsored by Rep. Liz Berry (D-36). These bills establish packaging extended producer responsibility (EPR) and beverage container reimbursement (BCR) programs, known as the Washington Recycling and Packaging Act, or WRAP. WR testified at both hearings.
WR appreciates the sponsors reaching out to our members to share the initial legislation and goals of the programs. Retailers have been at the forefront of establishing environmentally sound packaging and recycling programs for a range of products, such as expired and unwanted prescription medications, obsolete or broken electronic devices and TVs, and rechargeable batteries, to name a few – often at the retailer’s own cost.
Our members appreciate the inclusion of language to clarify that retailers may voluntarily serve as container collection sites rather than a mandate that they take back the used containers at their stores. We also support that the bill seeks for the packaging program to be funded by packaging producers – as was the case with the previously enacted Senate Bill 5022 from 2019. Unfortunately, the Department of Ecology, named as the administrator and enforcer of both SB 5022 and the proposed WRAP Act, has misinterpreted the legislature’s intent as to who should be considered a “producer.” The legislation had been carefully negotiated and drafted with many retailers’ store brands’ input taken into consideration. WR will work closely with the sponsors and stakeholders to ensure the definition of “producer” is clearly written in the proposed bills which will help alleviate ambiguities in the definition by the agency charged with implementation and the businesses required to comply.
Further improvements for the legislation would include conducting a needs assessment before target percentages are put into statute. The recently released January 2023 DOE Paper and Packaging Study is a good first step but more is needed. Extending the timeline for getting the program up and running and allowing the agency the resources and the businesses the compliance support needed to ensure success would be advisable. The current timeline is very aggressive and too short and potentially could lead to the program not achieving the desired results. Flexibility in labeling requirements as it relates to the “chasing arrows” need to be included and maintained. Manufacturers in our world economy are often unwilling to label products specific to one state. Our experience with other similar programs is that having a single statewide administrator, as opposed to several, leads to more economies and likelihood of success.
WR believes the BCR section can be improved with the recognition that both safety and security concerns should be addressed relating to the return locations since the returned containers have both an inherent economic value—coupled with sanitary concerns—which impact both employees and our retailers’ customers. The number of collection sites should not be set in rigid statutes, but give some flexibility to adjust as the program warrants.
WR is committed to working with the sponsors and other stakeholders on this important issue.