New York legislation would relay recycling fees to businesses and producers of product

Tonda Rush

Apr 1, 2021

Diane Kennedy, New York Newspaper Association’s executive director, on why the legislation is a bad idea

Legislation in New York state, S.1185-a and A.5801, threatens to attach fees to newspapers and all other producers of products so municipalities can shift the financial responsibility of recycling programs to businesses. This legislation, called Extended Producer Responsibility Act, is expected in several states in 2021.

Below are excerpts from a memo by Diane Kennedy, New York Newspaper Association’s executive director, issued on why the legislation is a bad idea. NYNPA is seeking an exemption from the bill for newspapers.

“The newspapers of New York State are deeply concerned about the financial and Constitutional issues raised by this legislation," Kennedy writes. “As currently drafted, the bill would curtail the availability of accurate news in many areas of the state and invite litigation to defend against government actions that would suppress distribution of news via newspapers. This legislation also unfairly forces newspapers to share the costs incurred by single stream municipal recycling programs and the negative effect of commingled plastic on the market for recovered paper.

“The newspapers of New York State have long supported the recycling and reuse of newsprint. Today, more than 64% of old newspapers are recycled into products including home insulation, egg cartons, cereal boxes and eco-friendly cat litter. (Yesterday’s News is made by Purina, a company with U.S. manufacturing facilities.)

“Newsprint is compostable and eco-friendly. Inks are non-toxic. Newsprint can be safely used as garden mulch, and old newspaper completely biodegrades in two to six months.

“This legislation is an attempt to shift the cost of municipal recycling programs onto highly recyclable products, such products as newspapers and magazines, which represent a small percentage of the municipal waste stream, 1.7% and 0.3%, respectively, according to the EPA (Nondurable Goods: Product-Specific Data | Facts and Figures about Materials, Waste and Recycling | U.S. EPA). The loss of markets for recyclable waste followed China’s 2018 decision to stop importing most U.S. waste. Previously healthy markets for clean waste paper were damaged when paper was commingled with other materials. China’s purchase of recovered paper was decreased by about 30% due to contamination issues.

“Newspaper recycling has been a success story and might have continued to pay for itself absent adoption of single stream collection. This legislation would impose costs on newspapers in an attempt to cope with problems created by others.

“Newspaper revenues are not elastic, especially in the COVID era. Most newspaper revenue is derived from advertising, and even before COVID, more than half of ad revenues had migrated to the cheap, unregulated and personally targeted environments of Google and Facebook.

“Newspapers simply cannot ‘find’ additional funding except through staff or distribution cuts.

“The threshold contained in the legislation would capture even the smallest newspapers. Many smaller community newspapers in New York State are owned by families who publish a number of newspapers and would therefore reach the threshold for regulation under this bill. Even the smallest weekly and free papers would be affected, as they are printed by commercial printers, which would pass along the compliance costs.

“The distribution of newspapers has for 300 years been considered a public good, worthy of citizen and government support and even some cost subsidization. This legislation turns that founding philosophy on its head, proposing that newspapers should face government-imposed fees that are not imposed on electronic media. In doing so, the legislature would unfairly burden residents who live in rural areas or who do not have access to broadband internet. Many seniors prefer to receive their news on paper, and this legislation could deprive them on the right to receive news in the format they prefer.

“Further, this bill poses serious First Amendment issues.

“It authorizes the government to regulate and discourage delivery of news to citizens based on the format on which it is provided.

“It provides an avenue for government to assess costs on newspapers that could be adjusted in order to be punitive or restrictive, should government officials wish to retaliate for unfavorable coverage.

“It may look like a fee, but is actually a tax on citizens’ right to receive information.

“It enacts a governmental preference for one type of news media (radio, social media and broadcast TV) over others (newspapers and magazines).

“It also includes imposition of a consumer education program. Legislation which grants government the right to compel publication of government messages is a violation of the First Amendment protection of freedom of the press. (Miami Herald v. Tornillo, Washington Post v. McManus)”