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US packaging landscape: 5 policies are shaping the future

Updated: Dec 5, 2023

US packaging regulations are currently experiencing frequent updates and new regulations emerging. Navigating these policies can be complex and challenging to ensure compliance.

In this article, you will get a detailed review of five crucial policies: Extended producer responsibility (EPR), source reduction, labeling, recycled content, and chemicals in packaging.

Sustainable packaging regulations in the US
US states with packaging regulations, each addressing the key regulation that are explored in detail

Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR)​

In response to the increasing importance of environmental sustainability, six states within the US have initiated significant measures related to Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR). These measures are set to be implemented, with deadlines beginning in the year 2025.

EPR is a regulatory strategy aimed at shifting the responsibility for the end-of-life management of products from consumers and local governments to the producers and brands themselves. Under EPR, producers and brands are financially obligated to cover some or all of the costs associated with collection, sorting, and recycling processes. EPR encourages a more sustainable approach to the end-of-life of the packaging by aligning the financial responsibility with the environmental impact of the products.

Key considerations

  • EPR typically influences design choices and often increases costs for all stakeholders.

  • Begin tracking your SKUs now and ensure coverage of a minimum of materials and weights.

  • Producers/brands must be compliant in Colorado and Oregon by July 2025, in Maine by Fall 2026, and in California by January 2027.

Anticipate these implications

  • We expect to see more states working to adopt EPR laws, starting in 2024, creating a need to harmonize practices among states.

Currently, Maine, California, Oregon, and Colorado have their Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) regulations. Additionally, there are groundwork laws in Illinois and Maryland.

Source reduction​

The mandate to reduce unnecessary packaging and void space is a pivotal shift towards sustainability in the packaging industry. It directs brand owners and manufacturers to employ eco-conscious strategies such as light-weighting, increasing recycled content, and embracing refillable or reusable packaging. This regulatory push encourages responsible practices, aligning packaging choices with environmental considerations and driving a collective commitment to minimizing ecological impact.

Key considerations

  • Familiarize yourself with the source requirements outlined in Senate Bill 54 in California.

  • Research your company’s qualified source reduction actions from the past 5 to 10 years; you may be eligible for some credit.

  • Assess your packaging hot spots with the most significant potential to implement alternatives.

Anticipate these implications

  • We anticipate that more states enforce source reduction mandates for packaging.

Currently, California has source reduction regulations, and similar considerations are being made in Connecticut, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, and Washington.

Labeling​ policies

There is an effort to communicate the recyclability, compostability, or reusability of packaging through labeling in the US. These regulations aim to provide clear messaging on the environmental attributes of packaging materials, fostering transparency and enabling consumers to make informed choices based on sustainability criteria. These mandates focus on ensuring that labels effectively convey whether packaging is recyclable, compostable, or reusable.

Key considerations

  • State labeling requirements may conflict with each other – do not assume consistent messaging nationally.

  • State laws are not always aligned with FTC Green Guides.

Anticipate these implications

  • Labeling may pose a legal risk for brands in the future if requirements are not standardized among states or at the federal level.

  • Consumer habits can be negatively impacted, leading to lower recycling and composting rates.

  • Some states and markets may experience product losses in the future.

Currently, California has respective regulations for recyclability claims. Additionally, Colorado, Minnesota, Oregon, and Washington have their respective regulations for compostable claims.

Recycled content​

The US requires the inclusion of recycled content in specific packaging. This regulation promotes the use of recycled materials in certain types of packaging for environmental benefits. Mandating recycled content aims to increase environmental awareness, reduce reliance on new materials, and drive sustainability in the packaging industry. As businesses adapt to these regulatory shifts, the emphasis on recycled materials reflects a collective commitment to eco-friendliness and minimizing the environmental footprint of packaging. Additionally, companies failing to meet the specified percentage of post-consumer recycled (PCR) content in their packaging will incur fees or penalties.

Key considerations

  • States apply it to different materials and require increasing percentages over time.

  • Designing packaging for national distribution may become difficult, especially if the supply of PCR is low.

  • State laws are not always aligned with FTC Green Guides.

  • Pressure will grow for producers to secure (food-grade) PCR material as rates increase and more laws are passed.

  • PCR mandates may apply to different packaging materials and formats.

Anticipate these implications

  • We will likely see more states enacting PCR mandates in the future.

New Jersey, California, Connecticut, Maine, Oregon, Washington, and Wisconsin currently have recycled content regulations.

Chemicals in packaging​

Increased attention is being given to the presence of chemicals in packaging in the US, with emphasis on PFAS.

Concerns regarding the potential health and environmental impacts of PFAS have prompted 11 states to implement restrictions on their use in packaging, especially in food-contact packaging. This heightened focus reflects a growing awareness of the potential risks associated with certain chemicals used in packaging materials, leading to regulatory actions aimed at mitigating these concerns.

Key considerations

  • Partner with your suppliers and component producers to better understand the chemicals used, e.g., processing aids.

  • Track all chemicals in your packaging.

  • Assess and evaluate alternatives.

Anticipate these implications

  • More states are likely to ban PFAS in the future.

  • Testing may be required for recycled content.

  • The focus may expand to other chemicals, such as phthalates and antimony.

California, Connecticut, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington, currently have regulations concerning chemicals in packaging.

Navigating packaging regulations can be even more intricate when dealing with global distribution due to varying laws worldwide.

At PSL, we can assist you in finding the best solutions through these complexities, ensuring your packaging strategy aligns with regulatory compliance globally.


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