3 essential regulations for business waste and recycling

This article is sponsored by Rubicon.

Waste and recycling regulations have long been a point of contention for business owners.

On the one hand, many businesses welcome rules that encourage recycling and waste diversion. On the other, staying compliant with the ever-evolving rules at the federal, state and local levels can seem an endless task, especially in recent years.

Let’s take a closer look at three types of waste and recycling regulations that we believe every business should adopt now and anticipate in the future. 

Packaging regulations

Packaging regulations govern the production, use and disposal of packaging materials. These regulations are designed to reduce the amount of packaging waste that a business generates, and to promote the recycling and reuse of these materials.

Packaging waste is a major environmental problem. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), containers and packaging comprise nearly 30 percent of municipal solid waste. It takes up significant space in landfills and releases harmful pollutants into the environment when incinerated. Packaging waste also contributes to climate change, as it requires energy to produce, transport and dispose of.

When packaging waste regulations are in place, they can help to reduce the environmental impact of these materials by:

  • Setting targets for recycling and recovery rates
  • Requiring the use of recycled content in packaging materials
  • Promoting the use of reusable packaging
  • Discouraging the use of single-use packaging

However, managing packaging waste responsibly is easier said than done. Plastics, paper, glass and metals are often used in packaging, and each of these materials has unique recycling attributes, influencing their environmental impact. Plastics, identified by resin codes, vary in recyclability depending on the type of plastic used, regional variability in what materials recovery facilities can sort and recycle, as well as more obscure factors such as if it is thermoformed vs. blow molded. Paper packaging, including cardboard and cartons, is often recyclable. Glass and metal containers are usually recyclable, contingent on proper sorting.

Staying in compliance with packaging waste handling and disposal is vital. To reduce packaging waste, businesses can adopt strategies such as bulk purchasing, reusable alternatives and partnering with environmentally conscious suppliers (of which there are myriad examples, including DeliverZero, Re:Dish and r.Turn). These practices can save costs while benefiting the environment.

Understanding packaging materials, complying with regulations, tackling multi-material challenges, and adopting reduction strategies are pivotal for businesses aiming for responsible waste management.

Extended producer responsibility (EPR) regulations

Extended producer responsibility (EPR) is an environmental policy approach that imposes accountability on packaging producers for the complete life cycle of their products, from design to disposal. This can include both financial responsibility and operational responsibility, such as collecting and recycling used products.

EPR regulations help to reduce waste, conserve resources and protect the environment. By making producers responsible for the environmental impacts of their products, EPR regulations encourage companies to design products that are more sustainable and recyclable. This type of regulation also helps to ensure that used products are properly disposed of, rather than being landfilled or incinerated, an idea consistent with Rubicon’s mission to end waste.

There are several ways that EPR regulations can be implemented. Some approaches include:

  • Setting targets for recycling or recovery rates
  • Charging producers a fee for each product they sell, which is then used to fund recycling and disposal programs
  • Requiring producers to join a collective organization that manages the recycling and disposal of their products

EPR regulations have been implemented in many countries around the world, with some of the most comprehensive directives in Japan, South Korea, India, Canada, Australia and the European Union. Products that are most often covered by EPR regulations include electronics, batteries, packaging and tires. While the United States has EPR regulations for electronics in some states, as of publication there are no EPR regulations at the federal level. 

From a manufacturer’s perspective, EPR regulations can benefit your company by enhancing the environmental perception of your business, reducing costs as waste generation decreases over time, and creating new business opportunities in the manufacturing of more sustainable products.

Hazardous waste regulations

Finally, hazardous waste regulations are a set of rules that govern the generation, transportation, treatment, storage and disposal of hazardous waste.

These regulations are designed to protect human health and the environment from the harmful effects of hazardous waste, defined as waste that exhibits one or more of the following characteristics:

  • Ignitability: It is capable of catching fire easily
  • Corrosivity: It can dissolve metals or other hard materials
  • Reactivity: It can explode or release toxic fumes when mixed with other substances
  • Toxicity: It can cause health problems or even death if ingested or inhaled

Hazardous waste regulations play a crucial role in preventing the release of hazardous waste into the environment. This simultaneously protects human health from harmful effects, such as cancer, birth defects and respiratory problems, and ensures the well-being of ecosystems.

Additionally, hazardous waste regulations ensure that companies properly manage said waste. This encompasses safe transportation of hazardous materials and the proper treatment and disposal of these materials in a way that does not harm people or the environment. In the United States, the EPA enforces hazardous waste regulations. The EPA holds the authority to inspect facilities handling hazardous waste, issue permits and initiate enforcement measures against violators. 

Effectively managing hazardous waste requires a commitment to employee training in the proper techniques of handling and storage. This includes designating specific storage zones marked with clear signage and instructions — the easier it is for an employee to determine the proper disposal method for an item, the better the program will be. Choosing to work with a company experienced in the handling of hazardous waste is a crucial step to guarantee that these materials are disposed of in a manner that aligns with hazardous waste regulatory requirements. Ultimately, this is not only good for the environment, but also allows companies to show their customers and the market that they are serious about protecting the environment and local communities.

Companies have a clear call to action. Packaging regulations sculpt a path to sustainable practices, limiting waste and promoting responsible disposal. EPR empowers producers to embrace accountability, driving innovation and waste reduction. At the same time, hazardous waste regulations safeguard human health and the environment.

Collectively, these regulations outline a roadmap to a greener future, urging industries to harmonize with the environment while demonstrating the urgency of shared responsibility. By advocating for and complying with these regulations, businesses can work towards sustainable waste management and ensure a healthier world for future generations.

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