The Washington State legislature failed to pass sweeping, progressive solid waste management legislation this session. The Washington Recycling and Packaging Act (The WRAP Act, SB 5154/HB 1131) would have implemented significant improvements to packaging recyclability and design, as well as introduced a bottle/container return and deposit system in the State.
Sponsored by Senator Christine Rolfes and Representative Liz Berry, the bill focused on the concept of Extended Producer Responsibility (or EPR)—putting the manufacturers of packaging on the hook for improving the recyclability of their products and investing in recycling infrastructure improvements.
The concept of EPR is gaining traction nationwide, with related laws in effect now in several states. Four states (Oregon, Maine, Colorado, and California) passed EPR laws for paper and packaging products in the past two years. In Washington, we have EPR laws that manage the recycling of some electronics, paint, prescription drugs, and fluorescent lightbulbs.
The inclusion of a bottle deposit/return system—an almost unthinkable legislative lift just a few years ago—has been gaining support from stakeholders. Bottle deposit systems massively improve recycling rates, but historically bottlers, grocers, and (more recently) the garbage industry have fought hard against them.
But with a nationwide move towards EPR, industry is realizing it would be best to gain control of these systems, rather than let the government dictate how they might function.
Unfortunately, despite its increasing feasibility, a bottle deposit component to the bill may have been simply too much to get through a fickle legislature. “I think that ultimately the bill might have just been too big,” says Preston Peck, Policy Committee Chair for the Washington State Recycling Association (WSRA). “I think there were still some concerns and questions that led the bill sponsors to believe that this bill was not ready for a vote this session.”
Heather Trim, director of the progressive non-profit Zerowaste Washington was a bit more blunt: “Unfortunately the industry prevailed,” she said. “In the end there just weren’t enough votes.”
Pressure from industry trade groups that represent garbage haulers and processors appear to have stifled the legislation.
Peck at the WSRA was not certain but expected that the legislation would return in some form in the future. “I think they will teak a break on it for a while,” he said. “But I wouldn’t be surprised to see it come back, perhaps broken up into multiple, more specific bills.”
Trim agrees: “This legislation will absolutely be back.”