Published: March 29, 2024


The first packaging data reporting deadlines for extended producer responsibility programs will hit in 2025, but gathering the needed data will take time and help from up and down the value chain. | A9-STUDIO/Shutterstock

In about a year, companies will be required to start reporting various data under four different extended producer responsibility laws as well as some recycled content and labeling laws. Many are still not ready, industry stakeholders cautioned. 

In December, several experts in the compliance industry warned that the time to start working on reporting compliances had already passed. While there is more activity now, industry players are still worried about the lack of urgency and the magnitude of the task ahead.

Michael Washburn, a consultant on sustainability and public affairs for Washburn Consulting, said in the past few months he’s spoken to a couple dozen producers, and only a few of them are in the process of hiring a role to oversee EPR reporting and compliance. 

“The vast majority I think are not actively preparing, or are actively preparing but don’t fully understand yet all that will be required,” he said. 

The first packaging data reporting deadlines for packaging EPR programs will hit in 2025, but gathering the needed data will take time. Each packaging component could require hundreds of data points collected from disparate sources. And each state could require slightly different information. 

Circular Action Alliance, a producer responsibility organization that is active in all four states that have packaging EPR laws in place, also recently announced that companies that will be obligated producers should register with them by July, to make sure those companies do not miss information or other deadlines. 

Kate Bailey, chief policy officer of the Association of Plastic Recyclers, said that APR has been hearing from members who have questions about data reporting for EPR programs as well as new laws that mandate recycled content, different labeling requirements and responsible end markets. APR owns Resource Recycling, Inc. 

She said that the rulemaking happening now in California “has made things very real” for brands and recyclers who perhaps still felt like 2025 deadlines were several years away. 

In addition, Bailey said there’s been a lot of focus on producers who need to submit data, “but they’re going to turn to their packaging suppliers and recyclers, so I think that there’s not enough folks aware of how is the data going to trickle down” and the part that each piece of the value chain will have to play. 

Meeting needs

While the exact data that needs to be reported isn’t yet fully clear, as rulemaking in the four states with packaging EPR hasn’t finished, Washburn said timelines are clear and the U.S. can look abroad for examples. 

“Looking at global programs, if you need a place to focus on right now, get your base rates, material types, make sure you know every component of every package that you make and sell and get those data, because you have to go to your suppliers to get those data and they’re not necessarily going to be responsive,” Washburn said. “They may or may not have good data.” 

Companies should also be looking to be as accurate as possible to save money on fees and should be looking for a strong reporting platform, Washburn added, because “you’re going to do this every year forever.” 

“You’ve got to have high-quality reporting,” he said. “You don’t want to miss something and overpay – or be out of compliance.” 

Apurba Pradhan, head of product at software and robotics company EverestLabs, said he believes that robotics and AI, like his company provides, will have a vital role to play in meeting reporting requirements. To capture the level of data called for in the reporting requirements, “the MRFs and PROs really need to start planning,” he said, and his company has been providing information to PROs and state regulators. 

“I don’t think there’s a manual way to do this properly,” he said. “I really do think you need to employ AI or some other detection technologies to be able to get this data.”

He added that “it just needs a lot of attention and a lot more coordination.”  

Bailey said that The Recycling Partnership’s hub for its members has tutorials for each state and is one of the best resources she’s seen so far, but it’s also largely producer-focused. 

Washburn has been participating in webinars to share information, he said, and also pointing out that data reporting is an endeavor that needs to be budgeted for, whether that means a new position or hiring a third party to help.

“Everybody is focused on the fees, but there’s a cost to readiness, and there’s a timeline to readiness,” he said. 

Moving forward

Right now, producers and anyone else who is going to need to report data should be working on figuring out how to get that data and getting organized, Washburn said. He said he’s heard that some companies are taking a wait-and-see approach, but he said “there’s nothing to wait for and nothing to wait to see.” 

“This is real. It’s a requirement,” he said, warning that in other countries, any companies that did not register or missed requirements have been called out publicly by their competitors.   

“Everybody needs to bring their A-game right now,” he said. “If we all do that, we can probably pull it off, but there’s no wait and see. No rabbit will get pulled out of a magic hat.” 

EverestLabs’ Pradhan said that his company realized early on that high-volume, accurate measurements were going to be part of recycling’s future, especially under EPR. 

“I don’t know that EPR is the future of recycling tomorrow, but I think the trend is that it will be one of the big pieces of recycling policy moving forward,” he said, adding that “what they’re planning for, or what they need to plan for, is a lot more involved than what most people realize.”

Pradhan said with the wide scope of accepted material lists, MRFs need better sorting, better data collection and better sampling capabilities. 

“PROs are looking at material lists that are much wider than what the MRFs today are doing, and people should be a little bit alarmed by that,” he said. 

AI and robotics can help with both measurement and recovery, Pradhan noted. But there needs to be some level of harmonization between states, especially as more states adopt EPR for packaging, and better clarification of what accepted materials lists will contain. 

“What is it that we’re looking to ensure that MRFs capture and report on? That needs to be super clear to MRFs, to us, to the public,” Pradhan said. “That way we can start training AI models.” 

He also recommended a demonstration of capabilities of any new technology PROs and MRFs are looking to introduce and ensuring that any EPR development includes a wide range of stakeholders, “to make sure we can have a discussion on what’s possible, what’s not possible, what could take time to develop.” 

Pradhan said his main takeaway is that EPR is a really positive direction, and that “AI has a huge role to play in the quantification and the measurement of these programs and should be recognized as such.”

Bailey said it’s also important to keep the purpose of the data reporting in mind: transparency and accountability.

“We want these policies to go well, and that means measuring progress,” she said. “We want to make sure that we don’t get wrapped up in data for the sake of data.” 

Looking forward, Bailey said coordination will be a vital piece, as is understanding from all parties that “everybody is new at this, we will have some growing pains, and we’re going to make it better as it goes forward.” 

“Where we would like to be in a few years is more coordination across the board, with everyone using the same reporting platforms and similar metrics and similar checks and balances,” she said. 

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