Letter to the editor: Paper recycling is an environmental success story
The American Forest & Paper Association vice president of government affairs
The March 13 column, “Ask Eartha: What is being done about the excessive amount of product packaging?,” failed to note all materials are not recycled at the same rate. For example, more paper in the U.S. is recycled every year from municipal recycling streams than plastic, glass and aluminum combined. Overbroad extended producer responsibility policies try to shoehorn different materials into a single policy with the misguided expectation all will be improved as a result. These policies are typically applied as a solution for hazardous, hard-to-handle materials with low recycling rates, including batteries, paint, mattresses or electronics. For highly recycled materials like paper, these policies could disrupt successful recycling.
Paper recycling is an environmental success story with lessons learned for Colorado lawmakers to consider as they aim to improve recycling rates. Thanks to billions of dollars in private investments, the paper industry recycles about 50 million tons of recovered paper every year, totaling more than 1 billion tons over the past two decades. Overall, paper recycling rates in the U.S. are extremely high, with cardboard recycling in 2020 at nearly 89% — a rate extended producer responsibility would not likely improve. In Colorado, nearly 50% of residents have access to curbside paper recycling, while more than 61% have drop-off recycling access. Cities like Denver are utilizing innovative technologies to recycle more, including paper cups and pizza boxes, which can go into recycling bins.
Curbing pollution and strengthening recycling infrastructure are crucial, and paper products are part of the solution. However, if extended producer responsibility policies do not consider decades of success for paper, then those policies could jeopardize our paper recycling system. Lawmakers should use the achievements of paper recycling as a model for improving recycling for low recovery rate materials, not contaminate the recycling stream for paper.
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