Judging by the extent of the plastic waste stream alone, it’s safe to assume we enjoy our conveniences.

The popularity of reusable thermal cups notwithstanding, we do love our bottled water, plastic pop bottles, prepackaged food, the flimsy plastic sporks and knifes that come with it, everything in blister packs and our big jugs of cat litter.

You name it, we get it in plastic.

Then there is the new way to shop — on your favorite app — with goods delivered in plastic bags and cardboard boxes. It all adds up, like so many Amazon boxes in your garage that you think you might use some day.

In Illinois, we recycle about 23% of what can be recycled. That’s on par with the national average, but not where we’d like to be. Plastics, especially, effectively do not degrade in landfills. They just keep piling up.

Our climate reporter, Jenny Whidden, wrote this week about a study from The Recycling Partnership on what could happen to the rate of recycling if those responsible for packaging goods would have responsibility for what becomes of the detritus of the stuff we buy.

First, though, what does Illinois’ 23% recycling rate mean? It’s estimated that in Illinois alone, 3 trillion pounds of stuff that should be recycled goes into landfills instead. Each year.

Imagine if we could recycle another 2 trillion pounds of stuff each year instead of dumping it in landfills? It has to be worth looking at.

Illinois is studying a policy on shifting the onus of recycling to the producers of products rather than consumers of them. This would turn the whole packaging/waste collection apparatus on its head.

The concept is known as Extended Producer Responsibility.

You’ve seen it in action already. It’s against the law in Illinois to throw away old and broken electronics. Instead, there are drop-off locations at public works facilities and the like. Producers of electronics are involved in the funding of such efforts.

The EPR concept is nothing new. It’s all the rage in Europe and in Canada. Four states — California, Colorado, Maine and Oregon — are in the process of designing programs.

EPR puts the onus on manufacturers and packagers to rethink what they do to include more packaging that can be recycled and less packaging overall. It’s financially advantageous to companies to ship products to consumers when there is less to recycle on the back end to worry about.

“We’d love to have an EPR bill that we support, but it definitely has to be one that prioritizes reduction of waste above everything else,” said Jen Walling of the Illinois Environmental Council. “We can’t keep doing what we’re doing, where we’re creating unlimited amounts of waste and then trying to figure out what to do with it. If we do an EPR bill, it really needs to be focused on rewarding the manufacturers that cut the amount of garbage they’re creating in the first place.”

We’d like to think that in years to come, the bigger of the two bins at the curb will the one filled with recyclables.

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