In the 90s, Cassel ran Massachusetts’ recycling and waste management programs, and one day local recycling officials began calling him in a frenzy. The HP Hood milk company had ditched its translucent gallon jugs for new opaque “LightBlock” bottles. Panic ensued. Clear plastic could be easily melted down and reused, and fetched 23 cents a pound from big recyclers. These new white jugs were worth far less, and were poised to upend carefully constructed municipal waste budgets. All because one company had changed its packaging.
A quarter-century later, there’s a growing movement to fix it, with one of Massachusetts’ northern cousins leading the way. Maine Governor Janet Mills this week signed the nation’s first extended producer responsibility (EPR) law, effectively holding the corporations accountable for the packaging waste they create. Now, nearly a dozen states, including Massachusetts, are on track to follow Maine’s lead.
Think about it: A company that sells you a product — be it toothpaste or taco shells or dog food — determines how it’s packaged. Maybe it’s shipped in multiple boxes or sold in a plastic container that isn’t recyclable. Either way, once it’s tossed in the trash or recycling bin, it’s the responsibility of the municipal waste program to figure out where it goes next.