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Bipartisan Tennessee bill would bring recycling to all homes, paid for by private business

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Bipartisan Tennessee bill would bring recycling to all homes, paid for by private business

Mar 04, 2024 | 6:01 am ET
By Anita Wadhwani
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Bipartisan Tennessee bill would bring recycling to all homes, be paid for by private business
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A bipartisan bill would bring recycling to every Tennessee household, a program paid for by private companies. (Photo: Getty Images)

Lawmakers on Wednesday will consider a bill that could bring recycling to every home in Tennessee, a $220 million undertaking that would be entirely paid for by private-sector companies whose packaging otherwise ends up in the state’s brimming landfills.

Tennessee currently ranks 48th in the nation for its limited amount of recycling, sending 900,000 pounds of packaging waste to landfills every year — 690 pounds per household, according to the nonprofit Recycling Partnership.

The proposed Tennessee Waste Reduction and Recycling Act would require companies with gross revenues of $1 million or more — based in Tennessee or elsewhere — to fund recycling. Companies that reduce packaging would see lower dues to the program as an incentive.

Tennessee landfills are already at capacity so it’s an absolute emergency. This would provide a sustainable funding mechanism that would be a big win because the government's not going to fund this.

– Sen. Heidi Campbell, D-Nashville

International brands are already required to participate in similar programs overseas, including in all of Europe and parts of Asia, South America and Africa, noted Sen. Heidi Campbell, a Nashville Democrat sponsoring the bill. Rep. Torrey Harris, D-Memphis is the co-sponsor.

“Tennessee landfills are already at capacity so it’s an absolute emergency,” Campbell said. “This would provide a sustainable funding mechanism that would be a big win because the government’s not going to fund this.”

Some major brands have weighed in with support, including Nestle USA, Danone North America, Unilever United States and Mars Inc.

“We know that passing this bill will take us another step closer to a waste and recycling future where companies like ours can set and meet ambitious packaging goals,” a Feb. 28 letter from the companies’ recycling advocacy organization, Sustainable Food Policy Alliance, said in part.

The bill would require producers of recycling materials — product makers as well as companies like Amazon that deliver to consumers — to form an independent, nonprofit “Producer Responsibility Organization,” or PRO to create Tennessee’s plan for recycling.

The PRO would set dues for companies doing business in Tennessee. Those dues would be used to fund household recycling pick ups and new recycling facilities that will generate thousands of jobs for Tennesseans, according to Campbell.

Local governments and Tennessee taxpayers would not be responsible for any of the costs.

A separate 13-member advisory board representing citizen and state interests would provide oversight of the group, along with the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.

The proposed law would also ban by July 1, 2028 packaging containing harmful chemicals, including so called forever chemicals that don’t break down and pose risks to human and animal life and other chemicals of “high concern.”   Violators would be subject to escalating fines.

The bill has drawn some GOP support. Sen. Frank Niceley from Strawberry Plains and Sen. Richard Briggs of Knoxville have signed on as cosponsors.