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Environment Washington supports policy to modernize recycling, reduce waste

On January 18, 2022, Environment Washington Advocate Pam Clough testified before the Washington Senate Committee on the Environment, Energy, and Technology in support of Senate Bill 5697, a proposed bill that would implement an extended producer responsbility program as a means to reduce waste and improve recycling in Washington, and ensure that packaging labels on products accuractly reflect the recyclability of the item.  Read our full testimony below:

Thank you Chair Carlyle and members of the committee,

For the record, my name is Pam Clough and I am an Advocate with Environment Washington, a statewide environmental advocacy group with thousands of members across the state. I am testifying in support of SB 5697.

Globally, 33 billion pounds of plastic enter the marine environment every year, devastating the world's oceans, ecosystems, and communities. Furthermore, plastic production continues to increase, yet our landfills are overflowing. With many countries now rejecting waste from the United States, our recycling system isn't functioning nearly as effectively as it could.  Overall material recovery rates are low and stagnant in WA.

A core issue with the functionality of our recycling system lies in the fact that producers aren’t responsible for the full life cycle of their products. Instead, Washingtonians, along with our cities and counties, continue to bear the brunt of the costs of single-use and excessive paper and plastic packaging, as well as the cost of cleanup. Meanwhile, seabirds, whales, and other animals in Washington’s environment bear the brunt of microplastics and other pollution.  Consumers are rightly frustrated with the increasing amount of difficult or impossible to recycle materials in our packaging, especially those that pollute our land and waterways. Washingtonians care about our environment and want recycling to work. We need to do better.

The solution is for manufacturers and brand-owners to take full responsibility for the financial and environmental costs of their waste. This will provide incentives and targets for companies to make more sustainable products and packaging choices- through making packaging more reusable, compostable, or actually recyclable. An extended producer responsibility program in WA has the potential to increase Washington’s residential recycling by more than 40%, matching our neighbors to the north in British Columbia and those in other countries where these programs are in place. 

Washington has been a leader on reducing plastic waste and working to improve our recycling system, with the passage of the bag ban in 2020 and banning foamed products, doing opt-in for utensils, straws, cup lids and condiments, and incorporating post-consumer recycled content in SB5022 last session.  We need to continue reducing our dependence on materials that aren’t reusable, compostable, or easily recyclable, and the RENEW Act is a model policy that will maintain Washington’s status as a leader in addressing our waste problem.