Bill aims to reduce packaging and improve recycling in Washington state.

Many Washingtonians have seen their recycling costs increase in the past few years. (Photo courtesy Public News Service)

The Washington Recycling and Packaging or WRAP Act — to be considered during the 2023 session of the Washington State Legislature — is designed to cut down on unnecessary packaging, which often is plastic, used only once and hard to recycle.

The legislation was unveiled at an event at the Seattle Aquarium earlier this wee. Sponsors are Sen. Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island, and Rep. Liz Berry, D-Seattle.

One part of the proposed legislation will create a producer responsibility system, which requires companies to be responsible for packaging at the end of its life.

Nora Nickum, senior ocean policy manager at the Seattle Aquarium, said under the WRAP Act, packaging producers would pay into a program, which would go toward recycling infrastructure.

“But they would pay less into the system if what they are making is more sustainable,” Nickum explained. “So that would be a built-in incentive to redesign things in a way that’s more environmentally friendly.”

Mazzi Nowicki, a University of Washington student and beyond plastics coordinator for WASHPIRG Students, said the measure would hold producers responsible.

“Recycling in general is really expensive and ends up as a burden on consumers, local governments, taxpayers,” Nowicki pointed out. “Whereas that cost should be put on producers instead.”

Residents in 11 Washington state counties do not have access to recycling. More than half of Washington’s consumer paper and packaging ends up in landfills and incinerators, according to an analyst with Seattle Public Utilities.

Plastics producers and recyclers say the policy will not be useful if it creates too many onerous regulations on their industries.

In 2017, Washington state residents and businesses produced about 410,000 tons of plastic packaging waste, and only about 17% of the waste was collected for recycling.

Nickum noted plastic is harmful for the environment and wildlife, especially as it breaks down into microplastics.

“Dealing with the problem of waste in the environment is much easier to address at the source before it gets into the environment in the first place,” Nickum stressed. “Because it is so hard to clean up once it’s there.”

Similar producer-responsibility legislation has been passed in other states, including California and Oregon. The WRAP Act also will establish a bottle-deposit program.

–By Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service (WA) 

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