Last week swept through Boston like a year, a silent moving picture whose old-time footage crackled with age, but, bright with modern day color, was telling of the future. On the other hand, at times, the events in happened so painfully slowly, with an air of inevitability, waiting, on the table’s edge, as the glass shook and started to fall, down, to the, floor.
Being American allows us to have a sense that justice will be served, that the rule of law will prevail, that we will swallow the evil, find an antidote to the germ, spit it out, and keep moving forward. Boston showed the best of America, and the best of humanity. Lives were saved here by how people reacted. The media found people who gave voice to heroism and humanity: the pediatric medical resident who pleaded with police to let her back through the barricade after she finished running the marathon because she just had to help; the man who lost one son to Iraq and another to suicide who came to the marathon to support veterans and mental health advocates, then ended up saving the life of a man who lost both of his legs; the young Chinese women laying flowers at the makeshift memorial at Berkeley and Boylston Streets; the neighbor providing the vision of a little girl who lost a leg but will dance again in the future; and the proud grandmother with breathing apparatus blessing the memory of her granddaughter who died by telling us about her good nature and curly hair that she had filled with bows before sending her off to school when she was a child.
We now know who did this unthinkable act. We do not really yet know why. But it does seem to be about rage, like a pressure cooker bursting because no one was watching the stove. Was it because of a failure to succeed in the Land of Opportunity when one man’s timeframe reached its limit? Was it the treacherous path of a young man that led to a jihadist’s door behind which despair utters epithets in masked disgrace? We don’t yet know, and we may never. It does seem, though, that these two kids inflicted their own inner turmoil on our innocent people.
Last week marked the reaction of a healthy society. We are fortunate to have the freedom to enjoy races, to walk about without soldiers at every corner, without snipers and bombs, and without barbed wire to protect our homes. With all of our struggles over ideology and policy, the United States is functional, strong, and effective, and clearly knows right from wrong. It is a place where everyone has a chance to succeed – as the bombers’ uncle poignantly insisted – even as we struggle to level the playing field.
Boston is the medical capital of the world, and the reaction of its citizens and expertise of its medical professionals saved lives. But there is something else that makes me proud to live here – it is hard to express, but it was on display for the world, as we grieved while in pursuit, searched while we pondered, and cried while we functioned very effectively. I am comforted knowing that we each feel the obligation to watch the back of the other, to help when not called, and to bring us back quickly to a place of security.
I look forward to standing among the masses again at many future Boston marathons to cheer the endurance of our patriots.
At 2:50 p.m. Eastern Time on Monday, as marathon runners were approaching the finish line and their fans cheered them on, a staff member and I were racing against the clock to submit testimony in support of battery EPR legislation in California.
Earlier that morning, I had come downtown on the trolley to work in our office near Copley Square, and had planned to head out for a few hours during the day to enjoy the marathon. In my 28 years in Boston, I had never been to the finish line, choosing instead to stay with my wife and neighbors at mile 23, cheering on the blur of athletes along with the masses. With my wife traveling on business this year, I was hoping for a different experience. But deadlines and unexpected requests came rolling in, and I got absorbed in work. Deadline: 3:30 p.m..
3:14 p.m. – “Scott, did you hear that there was just a bomb that went off at the marathon?”
One of the staff heard the blasts, just a few blocks away, in Copley Square. Looking out my window, people walked casually down the alley, no sign of mayhem or even concern. Was there damage?
3:16 p.m. – “My mom just called the office. Right on Boylston. Two bombs.”
Then we glued to the news.
Three of us were in the office that day. One was on vacation, three were working from home, and one had taken the day off to watch the marathon, in person, downtown, in the crowd. Did anyone hear from Mike!?
Flashback to September 11, 2001. I boarded an airplane at Logan Airport in Boston at 8:00 a.m. destined for Los Angeles, with a stop in Minneapolis. I was en route to a National Electronics Product Stewardship Initiative meeting in Minneapolis when the pilot entered my airspace to say that our plane was asked to land in northern Michigan. He was calm. I thought we had a technical malfunction. When the plane landed and all the passengers were taken into the terminal, the rows of TVs showed buildings crumbling and on fire. These same electronics that were to be the subject of our recycling meeting were now the transmitter of a new era. Another plane leaving Logan Airport at 8:00 a.m. destined for Los Angeles was boarded by terrorists and never landed safely. It became someone’s weapon of that new era.
Fast-forward to Monday, April 15, 2013. That evening, I walked halfway home, the trains not running downtown, my normal route home diverted by thousands of police. I felt like the pulsating blue dot on my iPad’s GPS – the one on the map that starts out surrounded by a wide circle but slowly zeroes in on my location – and I suddenly realized: Boston is now an epicenter of terror. I went through neighborhoods I did not know, places I had not seen, as streams of ambulances whisked past, lights flashing, sirens blaring, at every corner, for blocks and blocks, yellow tape fluttering, neon vests bobbing, people fighting for their lives, a city mobilized in goodness and prayer. Copters overhead fttt fttt fttt in the cool, clear air. Red lights. Blue lights. Flashing, blurring. I spotted a trolley as it emerged from the depths at St. Mary’s street, hopped aboard, paid my fare, and was transported outbound, where my TV would tell me the story that my heart already knew.
Today, my train stop at Copley Square in downtown Boston is still closed. The underground station stop from which I surface every morning on my way to work, and into which I descend every evening on my way back home, suddenly seems claustrophobic, a trap. The street and sidewalk are now a crime scene, stained red with sorrow. The mundane is now a blessing, screaming for mercy.
Boston is sad. Our hearts and prayers go out to the victims and their families. An area brimming with bustle has been transformed into a desolate zone sectioned off with cold metal barriers. The sadness is tinged with disbelief. Someone took a beautiful event – where children hand out orange slices and cups of water to toiling runners – and tarnished it forever.
But Boston is also compassionate and tough. The instantaneous reactions of people who ripped off their shirts to help the wounded, or who fearlessly rushed toward the blasts to help save lives, has shown that we live in a great society. These acts of heroism were not calculated movements. They were reactions of people who grew up learning to be kind to one another and to help others in need.
The memorials of teddy bears, flowers, and signs, and the spontaneous singing to sooth the circumstances, have all come from the innermost part of our collective soul. The mobilization that followed this tragedy has provided us all with a great beacon of hope that now permeates the downtown devastation.
Over the past few days, I have received an outpouring of heartfelt support from my family, friends, and colleagues, who let me know that they care – about me and my family, about our staff, about Boston, and about what happened at Copley Square.
Yes, the bombs mark a “new era.” But those phone calls, emails, and text messages of support, along with all the heroics during and after the bombings, will be what I remember most about this horrific event. We truly are “…one Nation under God, indivisible…”
It was 1997. I was listening to Ron Driedger, an official from the British Columbia Ministry of the Environment, discuss during a keynote presentation how his agency required producers to pay for managing their post-consumer products. From paint to pharmaceuticals, Ron said, industry-funded take-back programs enabled cost-effective recycling and safe disposal of a range of consumer products. This decreased not only government spending, but also the potential for negative environmental impacts due to improper waste management.
I was intrigued.
As the Director of Waste Policy and Planning for the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs, and in the midst of writing the state’s solid waste master plan for my fourth time, I knew we needed new ideas—and quickly. So when I returned to the office, I told my boss that I wanted this producer responsibility waste management approach to be the United States’ chief import. I made the case that product stewardship policy could not only save governments millions of dollars, but also be good for the environment and create recycling jobs. Then, I went out on a limb even further: I proposed creating a new, national nonprofit organization focused on this new concept of product stewardship. One that would be the voice for state and local governments. One that would help spur economic growth and cut back on taxpayer costs. One that would work to benefit the environment by finding innovative solutions to managing post-consumer solid waste. And one that would get government and industry to work collaboratively toward a common goal.
My boss—Gina McCarthy—bought into the idea.
Well, okay. She actually told me to finish the solid waste plan, first. Then, she asked for a business plan.
It took months of discussion and multiple drafts of that business plan, but in the end, Gina followed through, providing the funding and support that I needed to start the Product Stewardship Institute.
Thirteen years later, Gina McCarthy is poised to become the next head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, having earned the nomination from President Barack Obama. And she brings exactly the type of leadership that EPA needs.
Gina is an innovator and, by extension, a supporter of innovation. When I started PSI, I had to overcome numerous roadblocks that a bevy of detractors (mostly people who saw PSI as a threat to their turf) set up for me. Gina, however, saw PSI as an opportunity. In fact, she became one of the first PSI board members, helping to guide and shape the nascent organization. She understood the balancing act we were playing between government, business, and environmental activists. She took a calculated risk, asked questions, and provided advice. She helped PSI move forward by making decisions based on sound information, thoughtful deliberation, and consideration of multiple viewpoints.
The EPA’s past support for product stewardship has been instrumental in PSI successes, too. This includes our national paint dialogue, which led to a major waste management agreement with the paint industry, as well as our pilot computer take-back project with Staples, which led to nationwide take-back programs by Staples, Best Buy, Office Depot, and Office Max.
Unfortunately, the EPA’s more recent approach to product stewardship has been tepid, and there have been missed opportunities. With Gina at the helm, though, I feel confident that she would breathe fresh life into that seemingly worn banner of “change” that was unfurled at the White house in the early days of the first administration. The EPA needs fresh ideas. It needs a fighter. It needs someone who will advocate for progressive environmental interests while tempering that passion with economic and political realities.
Gina is a kid from Boston with the street smarts to manage a bureaucracy that’s in the crosshairs of Congress. She’s the “anti-intellectual” who’s intelligent. She’s the tough regulator who knows when to cut a deal. She’s the baseball manager who kicks dirt on an umpire’s bad call but then goes out for beers with the umpires after the game. From local health official to state and federal regulator, Gina has climbed the ladder while maintaining close ties to business leaders and environmental groups.
I think the President made the right choice by nominating Gina. Let’s hope Congress does, too.
Well, by golly. Our last blog entry has made quite a splash!
Ever since PSI shed light on AMERIPEN’s (draft) stance on Extended Producer Responsibility or EPR—the concept of having manufacturers bear the financial responsibility of recycling or safely disposing of their products after consumer use—I have been inundated with emails, phone calls, messages, and other “shout-outs” from people all across North America. While some responses have been quite negative (one said that PSI destroyed all its credibility and another said that the blog was harsh and insulting), most have been extremely positive—even congratulatory!
So, in the spirit of open communication and transparency, I wanted to share these comments—the good, the bad, and the ugly. By publishing them on PSI’s blog, I hope to give you a sense for both the temperature and the magnitude of the issue at hand. It’s clear that I have struck a chord with many people. Some took my blog as a personal attack, which was not intended. Nor was it intended to insult anyone. It was written because some of AMERIPEN’s members were saying one thing and then doing something completely different behind closed doors.
The only way to resolve our differences is to discuss them—frankly, openly, and freely—together. And if one way to make that happen is to keep the dialogue moving on PSI’s blog, well, then that’s what I will do.
With that, here are the comments I’ve received thus far. Please note that, to respect the privacy of those who do not wish to disclose their identities and/or affiliations publicly, I have omitted the authors’ names and the names of their respective companies/organizations.
“Good for you, my friend. Go after them. You are calling a spade, a spade. Congratulations.” —Emailed by the president of a recycling association
“Interesting. But not sure AMERIPEN’s position is necessarily flawed.” —Emailed by the vice president of government relations for a North American recycler
“THANK YOU! for speaking up! GREAT information, although disturbing. You’re one of the things we’re especially thankful for during this Thanksgiving season, and all year long. It was especially disturbing to me to see several of the Keep America Beautiful partners/sponsors on the Ameripen list.” —Emailed by the coordinator of an environmental beautification program run by a county health department
Your recent blog post has caused some concern for [us]….there are statements in the blog that do not align with a collaborative nature. As a result, we fear that key companies for the EPR dialogue [in which PSI was to participate] may decline an invitation to participate when the dialogue is branded with PSI…We remain committed to improving material capture and the implementation of policy and practice that leads to that end. Your commitment to these goals is appreciated and we will seek opportunities in which we can cooperate with each other in the future. —Emailed by the executive director of a regional recycling association
“We (in the office) enjoyed and appreciated the blog very much. As a professional management organization, we need to be honest and include all data and its sources, all facts, including information that might not support our own perceptions or personal opinion. Once again, as a professional management organization, we need to be neutral. We believe in rigorous analysis and having the accurate data so that credible comparisons can be made. Your blog raised questions, which is good, because the AMERIPEN position was not based on the right data. If you want someone to believe you and be a reference, you need to base your assertions on the best information you can have. Once this process is done, the debate can start.” —Emailed by the representative from a stewardship organization
“This was very helpful, Scott.” —Emailed by the president of a nationwide recycling organization
“Thanks for posting…not sure why such a position would be of benefit to them…perhaps arrogance.” —Emailed by a mattress recycler
“Here is great response to AMERIPEN’s position on EPR from Scott Cassel. It’s another reminder that PSI is fighting the battle every day for all of us! If you aren’t a member of PSI already you should be.” —Emailed by the coordinator of a state product stewardship program
“Very well said, as always, Scott. It seems that as long as taxpayers accept that they are effectively subsidizing large corporations through their municipal solid waste programs, and consumers continue to buy products that are over-packaged in difficult-to-recycle materials without complaint, what do those corporations have to gain by coming to the table to accept their fair share of responsibility? Be encouraged at least by the fact that they felt the need to address the issue of EPR at all, albeit in a negative way. I think that is a good first step. Perhaps it is the public we need to engage with first, to get product manufacturers to finally come to the table.” —Posted by the executive director of a local recycling cooperative
“My impression… is that we have really bought into EPR for those hard-to-dispose-of items, such as electronics, mercury-containing thermostats, pharmaceuticals, etc. Don’t get me wrong; I truly believe EPR is the ultimate destination of our industry, but the story I tell our residents/my peers is from the standpoint of hard-to-dispose-of items. Probably we’re looking at the same animal from different vantage points.” —Emailed by a commercial recycling and city beautification coordinator
“Scott: Congrats. Another great post. I hope it lights a fire under some of the members! I will forward to my contacts at big brands who are Ameripen members…I heard there was an 8-3 policy vote on the EPR position. Any idea who the three companies are that did not oppose EPR? Thanks.” —Emailed by a senior program director of a national nonprofit focused on corporate social responsibility
“Thanks for the info. I am not a PSI member but have attended meetings. I work in a small industry that really has no choice but to engage in rule making, since we know we can’t stop it. I find PSI to be very balanced in this release. To me it’s obvious one of 2 or 3 facts must be in evidence with the packaging industry. They don’t trust the “agenda” of some of the stakeholders within PSI. Within industry, a public process can be a threat, and honest discussion can get a seasoned professional in trouble. They have determined while doing their EPR work they don’t not a way to advance the business and meet the anticipated criteria. If you’re a corporate officer you have legal duty to your stockholders. Maybe they did their work and see they have to resist in favor of profit: I infer that the Euro-scare part (must be from US) is based on this. They must think they can win. Maybe they don’t trust PSI, so PSI needs to work within their trade groups to build that trust – please note, this will be a more private forum. It seems clear to me think they can win or delay (delay is a win for stockholders). One think about business is that there are conservative: if they think there is a nightmare scenario buy not helping, they will help. Right now they do not know, and maybe they do know, where this will lead and its bad for them. So I think this is the key problem, they think they can hold it off, and have to, because they can’t justify it to the owners. I wish you luck. I think inevitability based on the case for recycling is your most powerful message. You tell them they can’t win. Also, ask “what’s in it for them?” they are businesses after all. The cold fact is: government works mostly in the area of economic externalities like waste and pollution, while business work in internal economics, like profits. The external cost must be linked to the internal costs, obviously Extended Producer Responsibility is one way to do it. They may be rejecting that route for now. A Machiavellian approach would be to find the weakest member of their coalition, the one who benefits most, and get them inside the tent.” —Emailed by a technical manager at a coatings manufacturing company
“Thanks Scott, I forwarded this to several others.” —Emailed by a waste management specialist at a state recycling organization
“Scott: Nicely done. I appreciate hearing about this and getting the link to the response on your blog.” —Emailed by the executive director of a biosolids recycling organization
“Hi Scott, I tweeted this from all (of our) Twitter accounts. I’ll post to (Facebook) shortly.” —Emailed by the director of a state chapter of a national environmental advocacy nonprofit
“Great response. I just want to confirm that I can forward this to others outside the agency.” —Emailed by a statewide recycling program coordinator
“Good Job, Scott!” —Emailed by a North American post-consumer beverage container management organization
“The criticisms you level against AMERIPEN are precisely the ones that I would level against the recycling and EPR communities. You guys have no interest in assessing the reality of your claims by any kind of scientific measure. Your belief system is simply a religion, based on nothing substantial at all, and lots of misleading hype. You mention that recycling rates are stagnant but you are not prepared to explore the underlying reasons for that. The reasons are abundant and obvious: recycling is in idiotic approach to conservation, it is end of pipe, it is exploited by the garbage industry to increase garbage production and it has not got a prayer of ever becoming widely adopted unless governments impose it by force. The idea of instilling a new consciousness into the mind of every person on earth about green bins and purple bins and modes of separation is hopeless. And even if you could, you would not have one jot of influence on wasting behaviors since you have a primitive, simplistic notion of the sources of wasting. The only way to make progress in resource conservation comes from a production side approach, not a consumption side or end of pipe approach. The only concept that makes any sense is called Zero Waste meaning a redesign of production and commerce to design for perpetual reuse. You can read about it at http://www.zerowasteinstitute.org. This approach HAS NOTHING WHATSOEVER to do with your bogus zero waste to landfill or with recycling or consumer side waste reduction. Those are hopeless approaches that have failed worldwide and will continue to fail everywhere. And EPR is even worse, being nothing but a device to move costs from cities to manufacturers. Many cities have stated this openly, but you cannot allow that interpretation so you continue to pretend that you are pushing a conservation theory, though there is not the slightest support for that in the approach.” —Posted by the founder of a zero waste nonprofit organization
“I’m sure Scott will have a more articulate response, but let me start. You are missing the point. Zero Waste and EPR are not mutually exclusive approaches, but rather EPR is one tool in the chest to achieve zero waste. The recycling community is no stranger to Zero Waste, and we are fully aware that recycling is not the solution, but it IS a critical element to the solution. We are living in the real world, not the ideal one that you envision. If you think our approach of changing the behavior of humanity is hopeless, then how do you think we are going to get to corporations completely shifting their model of producing items that can be infinitely reused? And what is wrong with shifting the costs of managing discarded materials from municipalities to the manufacturers that foist them on us? (yes, I work for municipalities) If they are made to be responsible for the waste they create, then if they are truly trying to minimize their costs, they will find a way to put the materials that they have mined, purified and molded to their design back to use. We in the recycling community have to deal with today’s realities, and that is where we have to start. Paradigm shifts take a long time, but a journey of 1000 miles begins with a single step.” —Posted by the executive director of a local recycling cooperative in response to the comment above
Five years ago, the government members of the Product Stewardship Institute identified packaging and printed paper as the next priority waste stream. The reason was simple: recycling rates have stagnated for over a decade, the costs of managing garbage have risen, and recycling jobs continue to disappear into garbage trucks as valuable materials are carted off to landfills and incinerators.
These government officials have known for quite a while that they need a new strategy. And so, they did what government agencies always do: they earnestly attempted to engage the companies whose products and packaging cost taxpayers millions of dollars in waste management fees each year—dollars that might otherwise be used to hire teachers, firemen, and police. Unfortunately, most of those companies did not participate in PSI-facilitated multi-stakeholder discussions to which they were invited. And many refused to take part in other collaborative efforts.
Fast forward to today, and we see that very little has changed. We at PSI have recently learned that AMERIPEN—the U.S. lobbying arm for Procter & Gamble, Colgate-Palmolive, ConAgra Foods, General Mills, Owens-Illinois, Kellogg Company, Tetra Pak, and other companies—has developed an internal policy statement on EPR that, in short, disparages EPR and its supporters.
Yet, what is perhaps most dubious is that AMERIPEN crafted this position statement before completing its own EPR research. This indicates several things: that AMERIPEN is fearful of facts, dismissive of government interests, and unable to have a meaningful conversation with those with whom they disagree.
The following is a list of some of the most misleading statements that AMERIPEN makes in its internal position paper:
Misleading Statement #1:
AMERIPEN states that: “We are working in collaboration with the states, and this work should be allowed to progress before embarking on the type of radical systemic change that would be created by a packaging EPR program.”
AMERIPEN has only invited two state officials and one local official to participate in its meetings. PSI, which represents the varied interests of 47 states and hundreds of local governments on product stewardship issues, has offered to facilitate discussion with a representative government group, but AMERIPEN has not agreed to engage.
Misleading Statement #2:
AMERIPEN states that: “The group’s intent is to assess the unique recovery and EPR programs across the globe using a non-biased, fact-based approach.”
AMERIPEN’s own EPR research team has refused to collaborate with PSI. How can AMERIPEN produce a non-biased, fact-based report when it has already come to the anti-EPR conclusion stated in its draft policy? By contrast, PSI has conducted its research on EPR programs in a fully transparent fashion through another North American industry association of brand owners, retailers, recyclers, and other businesses seeking to reduce packaging waste.
Misleading Statement #3:
AMERIPEN states that: “…much of the current discussion does little to advance potentially useful goals that focus on environmental outcomes; rather, it centers on simply changing the responsibility of who recovers municipal waste… AMERIPEN believes in broader discussions that truly consider overall program objectives…”
AMERIPEN’s statement mischaracterizes the nature of the discussions taking place in the U.S. and its focus on environmental outcomes. The EPR movement would not have been started in the U.S. if recycling rates were not stagnant. AMERIPEN has refused numerous invitations to engage in exactly the type of broad discussion it says it wants – one focused on reaching overall system goals. PSI has repeatedly tried to engage AMERIPEN members in a discussion about their view of the problem, their overall goals, the barriers to achieving those goals, and a comprehensive set of potential strategies to consider (including voluntary initiatives, EPR, and other regulatory approaches).
Misleading Statement #4:
AMERIPEN states that: “There is currently no clear EPR model in existence that is designed for the U.S.”
There are many U.S. EPR models for other products, numerous EPR models for packaging and printed paper around the world, and several U.S. EPR models for packaging and printed paper that have been developed by PSI, Recycling Reinvented, and others. AMERIPEN cannot refuse to discuss whether and how those models might work, and then complain that there are no models. In the U.S., our goal should be to develop a basic model that balances stakeholder interests in a broad fashion, and then leaves it up to the stakeholders in each state to flesh out the details based on geographic variation and preference. Some states might prefer an EPR approach as part of a comprehensive strategy, while others prefer a purely voluntary approach. Even states taking an EPR approach will likely seek a variety of complementary strategies.
Misleading Statement #5:
AMERIPEN states that: “…research on programs currently in place around the globe demonstrate that the goals of an EPR system in the U.S. will probably not be met…”
AMERIPEN’s statement relies on two flawed studies – one conducted by the Grocery Manufacturers Association and the other by the Product Management Alliance, both of which hired the same consulting firm, SAIC, to piece together bits of data to produce the anti-EPR conclusions that their clients wanted. These studies make their own assumptions about the goals of EPR programs without asking those who advocate for, and run, those programs, then claim that their (SAIC’s) assumed goals are not being met. EPR programs are being proposed to boost recycling, reduce waste, create recycling jobs, save taxpayers money, and solve problems that have existed for decades. Packaging EPR laws have been passed in over 30 European countries over the past 20 years, as well as in four Canadian provinces (with the others to follow in the next few years), Israel, Japan, South Korea, Brazil, and other countries. These programs would not be spreading and perceived as successful if their goals were not being met.
Misleading Statement #6:
AMERIPEN states that: “A key consideration in the U.S. is to balance the drivers and intended outcomes of an improved recovery system… Any state considering improving its recovery system must define and align critical outcomes before advancing a solution.”
The basic job of any state and local government official is to balance the multiple interests of companies, environmental groups, and their citizens. AMERIPEN’s statement implies that states have not yet figured out the basic outcomes they seek. In fact, most states know exactly what outcomes they want to achieve, and an increasing number of states have publicly stated, often in published solid waste master plans from up to a decade ago, that EPR is a main part of their overall waste management strategy.
Misleading statement #7:
AMERIPEN states that: “We are committed to increasing recycling and recovery rates in the U.S. through collaboration and teamwork among key stakeholders, by bringing more efficiency into our existing system, and incorporating best practices, all without the financial and administrative burden of an EPR system.”
This statement sums up the problem with AMERIPEN’s EPR policy. I have not met a stakeholder group that does not want to increase recycling, increase efficiency, and incorporate best practices. However, AMERIPEN will not achieve these goals without involving a significant number of local and state government officials who manage the existing diverse and complex system. By engaging with these officials, AMERIPEN will better understand those systems and their challenges. AMERIPEN’s strategy to optimize the current system is certainly a worthy approach. Unfortunately, they have yet to articulate what policies or programs they believe will optimize the system. In addition, if solely optimizing the current system could solve the problem, it would have been done long ago.
I also have not encountered a program without financial and administrative burdens. Managing waste is a significant burden to taxpayers and government, but not the same burden to manufacturers and consumers. What is completely lacking in AMERIPEN’s policy is an acknowledgement of their role and responsibility for reducing the external costs of their products on taxpayers who spend billions of dollars every year to cart their packaging to landfills and incinerators. Also lacking is an understanding of the hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars that governments have already spent to develop and maintain the current recycling system. AMERIPEN cannot talk about financial and administrative burdens without understanding how those burdens are currently allocated. It is far easier for AMERIPEN to oppose efforts to internalize the true costs that their products impose on taxpayers rather than engage in collaborative discussions to alleviate those costs and impacts. What they might find, however, is that in-depth collaboration can actually satisfy their own interests in obtaining a low-cost, high quality, consistent stream of recycled materials. Only real collaboration will result in true innovation.
AMERIPEN members comprise many multi-billion dollar companies that, for the most part, are led by packaging experts. Unfortunately, these same people do not understand solid waste management. AMERIPEN has convinced itself of a solution while shutting out any possibility that they may be wrong. By closing themselves off to new information from those who are truly experts in managing waste, AMERIPEN’s members have operated from a place of fear and, unfortunately, ignorance.
AMERIPEN has driven its stake into the ground, and then told the rest of us to go take a hike while they fix the problem. How much longer should we wait? There is little hope that recycling for packaging and printed paper will increase in the U.S. to the extent needed unless AMERIPEN’s member companies, as well as other non-AMERIPEN companies, understand that they have something important to learn from others, and become willing to engage in a reasonable discussion with those with whom they disagree.
I believe in the ability of people with different viewpoints to come together and find common ground. I have experienced it many times, and I am not immune to major changes in perspective myself. But it takes a willingness to be proven wrong, and a confidence and ability to show others why you think you are right. AMERIPEN’s new EPR policy illustrates that it currently lacks both.
AMERIPEN Member Companies
- Amcor, Manufacturer – Packaging
- Anheuser-Busch LLC, Manufacturer – Packaged Goods
- Ball Corporation, Manufacturer – Packaged Goods
- Bemis, Manufacturer – Packaged Goods
- Colgate-Palmolive Company, Manufacturer – Packaged Goods *
- ConAgra Foods, Manufacturer – Packaged Goods *
- DDL, Manufacturer – Packaged Goods
- DuPont Packaging & Industrial Polymers, Manufacturer – Raw Materials *
- Earth911, Recoverer
- ExxonMobil Chemical, Manufacturer – Raw Materials
- General Mills Inc, Manufacturer –Packaged Goods
- H. J. Heinz Company, Manufacturer –Packaged Goods
- Kellogg Company, Manufacturer – Packaged Goods *
- McDonald’s, Retailer – Packaged Goods
- MWV, Manufacturer – Raw Materials *
- NatureWorks LLC, Retailer – Manufacturer – Raw Materials
- Owens Illinois, Inc., Manufacturer – Packaging
- PaperWorks Industries, Manufacturer – Packaging
- PARC Corporation, Recoverer
- PepsiCo, Manufacturer – Packaged Goods
- Procter & Gamble, Manufacturer – Packaged Goods *
- Saint-Gobain Containers, Inc., Manufacturer – Packaging
- Sealed Air Corporation, Manufacturer – Packaging *
- Sonoco, Manufacturer – Packaging
- Tetra Pak, Inc., Manufacturer – Packaging *
- The Coca-Cola Company, Manufacturer – Packaged Goods *
- The Dow Chemical Company, Manufacturer – Raw Materials *
- The Hershey Company, Manufacturer – Packaged Goods
- Waste Management, Inc., Recoverer
Flying high above the Atlantic on my way home from a week of travels to Canada and Scotland, I pondered how America can be such a powerful world leader in technology, the economy, and the military, but so unenlightened regarding trash. We pride ourselves on innovation, bold risk-taking, fierce independence, and toughness. Yet, we are well behind our Canadian and European comrades regarding strategies to turn our country’s waste problem into an opportunity to recover valuable materials, create recycling jobs, and reduce costs. In fact, our corporations display a fear and trepidation of the future that is downright troubling.
What is so disappointing is that most corporations selling products into the U.S. market are operating within much more sophisticated solid waste programs than we have in the U.S. Although we have made progress in managing some problem wastes (e.g., electronics, mercury thermostats and lighting, and paint), the Canadians and Europeans have us beat in so many product areas, particularly packaging.
In Ottawa, Ontario, I moderated and presented on a panel called “Policy Shaping the Landscape” at the PAC NEXT annual conference that PSIco-sponsored. In front of several hundred corporate powerhouses like Unilever, P&G, Nestle, Walmart, Kraft, and Target, my fellow panelists and I discussed the mix of strategies needed to manage all packaging waste in Canada by 2015 – voluntary industry initiatives, extended producer responsibility (EPR), and other regulations. That same conversation is not yet happening in the U.S. And the U.S. representatives of those same corporate powerhouses are avoiding even having that conversation.
As our first session panelist, Michael Goeres, executive director of the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment (CCME), provided the context for Canada’s national focus on packaging. According to Goeres, it started in 1989 with the National Task Force on Packaging. The issue reignited during the debate on packaging EPR that started in 2000. And it resurfaced, yet again, with the 2009 Canada-wide Action Plan for Extended Producer Responsibility and Canada-wide Strategy for Sustainable Packaging,which created a central platform on which to implement EPR laws throughout Canada by 2015. Goeres also discussed CCME’s initiative to work with industry to reduce packaging waste, which culminated in the recent announcement of the Design Guidelines for Sustainable Packaging, a voluntary joint initiative between Éco Entreprises Québec (a PSI Sustaining Partner) and the Sustainable Packaging Coalition.
In contrast to our Canadian counterparts, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) does not consider waste management to be a federal government issue, but rather a state and local government issue. After a request from state and local agency officials to help solve the growing waste problem, the EPA held five meetings on packaging waste between 2010 and 2011 and even released a report. However, it pulled out soon thereafter, leaving regional EPA branches to follow up.
The next speaker on our panel, John Coyne, is a Unilever vice president and chairman of Stewardship Ontario, the industry-led product stewardship organization that takes pride in its implementation of Ontario’s six-year old Blue Box EPR program. Of the 1,500 businesses represented by Stewardship Ontario, John said: “…we are dedicated to supporting our member companies’ drive to innovate – to contribute to making their businesses, packaging, and products more environmentally sustainable and more readily recyclable. We lead through development and investment.”
Here are a few other things he said:
- “By any measure, the Blue Box is defined and regarded as both a success and a symbol…75 percent of Ontario residents say they consider the Blue Box their primary pro-environment effort …People like it. It makes them feel good about their contribution. More importantly, people use it.
- “By embracing innovation, by harnessing creativity, by building on our achievements and accomplishments, we aim to be a global leader in responsible product stewardship. At all times, we never lose sight of the fact that our primary job is to meet collection and diversion targets and to prevent waste from filling landfills and fouling waterways.”
- “We need to ensure that the success of the Blue Box fuels further innovation – which, in turn, will help make the program even more successful.”
Ironically, many of the same companies that are members of Stewardship Ontario are also members of the U.S-based Grocery Manufacturers Alliance (GMA), which hired the consulting firm SAIC to issue a report last month that criticized the Blue Box EPR program as inefficient and ineffective. Go figure.
The last speaker on my panel, Meegan Armstrong of the British Columbia Ministry of the Environment, touted the province’s commitment to manage, by 2017, all products under an EPR system that promotes private sector initiative and innovation.
As if that three-speaker session was not enough of a contrast with the U.S., next, I spoke on a panel at the Scottish Waste and Resources Conference in Glasgow, Scotland, where my fellow panelists and I discussed the interplay between voluntary and regulatory solutions.
The Scottish government has just introduced packaging regulations that are more aggressive than the existing packaging law in place in the U.K., of which Scotland is a part. However, Zero Waste Scotland, an independent organization funded by the Scottish government, is tasked with implementing the packaging law through both EPR and voluntary solutions. The recycling rate in the U.K. far exceeds that of the U.S., but—to Scotland—that rate is unacceptably low. They want to do more.
America, we have a problem. If our corporations continue to refuse even to have the discussion with other U.S.-based stakeholders about how we are to reduce waste, save taxpayers money, create recycling jobs, and achieve our joint objectives by both voluntary and regulated solutions, then we will have no one to blame but ourselves for wasting economic opportunities.
As Americans, we should be leading in the creation of innovative waste management solutions, as we do in other areas of the economy, rather than burying our future in the rubble of our own fear.
Trapped Inside the Box: Corporate America’s Struggle to meet its Environmental and Social Responsibility
Twelve years ago, when PSI was getting off the ground, my personal vision was that government and industry representatives could have meaningful discussions about waste policy outside the legislative arena, and develop joint policies, regulations, and laws to protect human health and the environment. I was tired of the traditional unilateral government approach to pass laws over the fierce objections of industry. Collaboration, after all, can achieve far better results than forcing anyone to do anything.
Fast forward twelve years, to today. While there are many stellar individual examples of corporate leaders finding ways to reduce their product impacts, far more companies have chosen to thwart attempts at having an open conversation about their environmental and social responsibility. In an ironic twist of self-fulfilling prophesy, most companies that hate regulation and want smaller government only become “greener” through the threat of legislation.
In an ironic twist of self-fulfilling prophesy, most companies that hate regulation and want smaller government only become “greener” through the threat of legislation.
PSI works on about 18 product categories, and has invited manufacturers, retailers, and other businesses associated with every one of these products to discuss how to reduce their health and environmental impacts. The only industries to fully engage in these discussions are paint (through the American Coatings Association) and rechargeable batteries (through Call2Recycle).
The International Sleep Products Association would not bring any members to our two open national mattress dialogue meetings, refused to provide contact information, and would not discuss strategies to solve the problem.
The majority of U.S. consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies were invited to attend our three technical packaging calls that recently addressed both voluntary and regulated strategies to reduce, reuse, and recycle packaging and printed material, including non-EPR systems. Only a few participated, and they have not invited PSI to attend any of their discussions. The truth is that most CPG company representatives in the U.S. are so new to the issue of packaging waste and recycling that they do not know what to do. There are many in this field, including PSI, who have been working on these issues for years, and can provide insights and opportunities for productive discussion among all stakeholder groups. However, this can only happen if these companies do not close ranks and only discuss strategies among themselves.
The National Electrical Manufacturers Association came to PSI five years ago seeking EPR legislation on mercury thermostats because they did not want to continue paying for the recycling of thermostats from free-riding companies not contributing to the industry-funded thermostat recycling program. After six months of multi-stakeholder negotiations and after all issues were negotiated, they walked away from the agreement and have since opposed all thermostat legislation except bills that codify their voluntary program.
No wonder why environmental groups have sharpened the saw against these companies. We have now come full circle to the point where PSI began – governments are left with little choice but to force legislation on industry, or accept whatever programs industry wants to do. That is truly a sad waste of all of our time and energy.
Yet the world turns, and PSI will react to this reality. We will continue to seek out corporate leaders, like those on our Advisory Council, at the American Coatings Association, and at Call2Recycle. And we will continue to support and strengthen voluntary programs as well, since many states will not support legislation under any circumstances. But the truth is that PSI is being forced into the same antagonistic fight in state legislatures that we wanted to avoid when we were created in 2000.
I had hoped that data, logic, discussion, and human interaction would breed relationships that would entice companies to transcend their natural inclination to maintain the status quo. We are now entering the fall, and many governments are getting ready for the 2013 battle in state legislatures across the U.S. …unless someone would rather talk…
Is anyone out there? Hello?