Bennett bill would drive shift away from wasteful packaging


STATE HOUSE –  The toy with seemingly hundreds of pieces that take 30 minutes to unbox. The foods packaged in a stiff, unrecyclable plastic bag. The household item that is packed in an inseparable conglomeration of rigid plastic, metal and cardboard.

When products are sold with excessive, unrecyclable packaging, who is responsible for the cost of disposing of it?

The city or town of the consumer who buys it.

House Environment and Natural Resources Committee Chairman David A. Bennett has introduced legislation to shift the cost and responsibility of that disposal to the back to the entity that chose to create the packaging in the first place – the producer of the product.

Chairman Bennett has introduced legislation (2022-H 7279) to establish “extended producer responsibility” for packaging that would push product manufacturers to reduce wasteful, non-recyclable packaging on products sold in Rhode Island, and assess them fees for the amount that continues to be disposed of here.

There is a lot of wasteful, nonrecyclable packaging out there that winds up in our landfill or contaminating our recycling loads. And it’s just crazy that it’s our overburdened cities and towns – who have absolutely no control over the choice to create that packaging or purchase the products that come in it – who pay for its disposal in their tipping fees at the landfill. That material makes up about 16 percent of all the trash that goes into the landfill, which at this rate, will reach its capacity by 2034,” said Chairman Bennett (D-Dist. 20, Warwick, Cranston). “Consumers have some power in their purchasing choices, but ultimately, it’s the companies selling those products who have the real control, because they choose that packaging. They must stop burdening our communities and our planet with this much single-use garbage, and this bill is a way to finally hold their feet to the fire.”

The legislation creates a producer responsibility program in which all companies selling packaged products in Rhode Island would be required to participate. The program would compel them to make changes to their product design to reduce packaging consumption and waste, and would assess them fees based on the amount, by weight and type, of their packaging that is distributed for sale in Rhode Island.

A nonprofit producer responsibility organization would be contracted to assess and collect the fees and manage the resulting packaging responsibility fund. That fund would to be used for projects that reduce packaging waste by investing in reuse and refill systems, recycling infrastructure, and reuse, refill, and recycling education in the state as well as reimbursing municipalities for their effects on disposing of it as well as any litter abatement it necessitates.

Rhode Island has already established producer responsibility programs for some products, such as the PaintCare program that requires paint manufacturers to accept and recycle unused paint, and a similar requirement for all mattresses sold in Rhode Island.

A producer responsibility program for packaging would be a strong incentive to get companies to cut down on wasteful packaging, which hurts taxpayers and the planet alike.

“Corporations use wasteful packaging because a lot of it, particularly clear plastic, allows consumers to see the product. It’s enticing. But when you get it home, that packaging is often annoyingly hard to open, on top of being wasteful. And even if they may not realize it, consumers are paying for its disposal because they are taxpayers. I think consumers would really welcome a shift toward less elaborate, wasteful packaging,” said Chairman Bennett. “And our planet needs this.”