How Increased Regulation is Impacting CPG Packaging
An Explanation of Six Local Laws Driving Global Change
By Moira Stein of Insights & Strategy at Berlin Packaging
Governments in the United States and around the world are introducing legislation aimed at reducing packaging waste and promoting a more circular economy. These laws are driving change that will continue to impact the packaging industry for years to come.
Several U.S. states – including California, Colorado, and Connecticut – have already passed local regulations to compel consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies to make their packaging more sustainable and recyclable.
The packaging laws vary by state and include measures around post-consumer recycled (PCR) content, container deposit return systems (DRS), and extended producer responsibility (EPR); as well as labeling regulations and chemical restrictions.
Post-consumer recycled (PCR) content
A primary concern is plastic use, and many regulations have introduced new requirements for post-consumer recycled (PCR) materials. What is post-consumer recycled content? PCR content refers to materials recovered from the waste stream after consumer use, such as plastic bottles and packaging waste.
It reduces the need for virgin plastic resins and other virgin materials. Incorporating post-consumer recycled content in packaging contributes to a circular economy by extending material life cycles. It reduces landfill waste, conserves natural resources, saves energy, and lowers greenhouse gas emissions. California is just one state with PCR laws, which require plastic beverage bottles sold in the state to contain at least 15% PCR by 2022, 25% PCR by 2025, and 50% PCR by 2030. It also requires beverage manufacturers to annually report virgin plastic and PCR plastic usage by pounds and resin type.
Deposit return systems (DRS)
To promote higher packaging recoverability levels, particularly in beverages, some states have implemented deposit return systems (DRS). These reward consumers with money back when they bring empty packaging to a designated collection point.
Currently, all Canadian provinces and 10 U.S. states operate deposit/refund systems. Bottle bill programs incentivize consumers to recycle their beverage containers, reduce littering and pollution, increase package recycling rates, and complement curbside recycling efforts.
The Container Recycling Institute found on average, the 10 states with deposit/refund systems recycle 60% of their beverage containers, while the 40 states without such programs recycle only 24% — suggesting that financial incentives boost recycling rates.
Connecticut’s latest Bottle Bill expanded the state’s container deposit program in 2023 to cover hard seltzer, hard cider, and a variety of non-carbonated ready-to-drink beverages, such as juice, tea, coffee, kombucha, plant-infused drinks, sports drinks and energy drinks. Glass, plastic, and metal packaging are subject to the deposit. Beginning in 2024, the 5-cent deposit on all covered products will increase to 10 cents.
Extended producer responsibility (EPR)
Some state governments are introducing extended producer responsibility (EPR) regulations that shift the responsibility of managing packaging waste from local municipalities to the producers of packaged goods. EPR refers to a policy approach or principle in which producers (i.e., brand owners, manufacturers of packaged goods, finished product importers/distributors) are responsible for the entire life cycle of their products and packaging, with a special emphasis on product end-of-life (e.g., recycling, composting, disposal).
That responsibility may be financial (e.g., fees) and/or operational services. EPR legislation propels companies to adapt their packaging material choices and design, supporting the transition to a more circular economy. This could include actions from designing easier-to-deconstruct packaging for end-of-life recycling to simplifying existing product packaging to reduce material use and waste to helping fund research and development and infrastructure.
Colorado will begin requiring CPG companies to pay annual dues to fully fund a statewide recycling program for packaging. The dues will be based on the type and volume of packaging sold and distributed in the state. CPG companies must participate in the program by 2025 and pay dues in 2026.
Beyond regulating packaging containers, states are also introducing legislation that regulates labeling. Passed in 2021, a California law (SB 343) prohibits the use of false or misleading recycling labeling or marketing claims, such as the chasing arrows symbol or any other indicator of recyclability, unless the product or packaging is considered “recyclable” under certain statewide recyclability criteria, according to the state’s website, CalRecycle.ca.gov.
In addition to sustainably focused packaging regulations, restrictions on potentially harmful chemicals are a significant trend. Much focus had been on Bisphenol A (BPA), but as more BPA-free products are introduced, the focus is shifting to other chemicals, including per- and poly-fluorinated substances (PFAS or “forever chemicals”) and phthalates. The European Union has considered banning PFAs altogether, and a United Nations plastics treaty could also introduce restrictions on these chemicals.
Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is intended for general information purposes only and is based on information available as of the initial date of publication. No representation is made that the information or references are complete or remain current. This article is not a substitute for a review of current applicable government regulations. Readers with specific questions should refer to the applicable standards or consult with an attorney.
About the Author
Moira Stein has spent 20-plus years working in brand marketing, with a focus on strategy and design. For the past three years, she has helped Berlin Packaging’s customers leverage consumer and category insights to develop strategic package design solutions that create impact and drive sales. Moira has experience across a variety of sectors, including food & beverage, personal care, and home care. Her clients have included large CPG companies like SC Johnson, Kraft, and ConAgra Foods, as well as small distilleries, wineries, craft breweries, and start-ups. Learn more at www.berlinpackaging.com.