Envisioning a More Equitable Recycling System

By: Olivia den Dulk (PSI Associate), Sydney Harris (PSI Senior Associate), and Scott Cassel (PSI CEO/Founder)

Recycling used to be a reliable source of revenue for many US municipalities when China imported 70 percent of the plastics we put in our recycling bins. China and other countries, like Malaysia, paid for post-consumer recyclables that included high levels of contamination, which allowed Americans to generate waste and recycling without giving much thought to where it ended up. But while this system was easy and cheap, it was also unfair to export our environmental problems to vulnerable communities, contaminating their air, land, and water with our trash. In China, for instance, much of the imported contaminated material was difficult to recycle, ending up in landfills or polluting agricultural land and waterways. Due to the sheer volume of incoming waste and recyclables, illegal (unpermitted) waste was not easily tracked and a large amount arrived, exposing children to toxics. China enacted its National Sword Policy in 2018 to restrict imports of most plastics and other post-consumer materials, leaving U.S. municipalities reeling.

Photo by Magda Ehlers on Pexels.com

For two years, PSI has been tracking news reports from over 170 US cities and counties affected by China’s import ban. Initially the U.S. and other Western countries looked to other countries as a destination for recyclables, but soon their facilities, too, were overwhelmed with our waste. In Malaysia, the high degree of contamination of the recyclables shipped led to burning the waste, which released toxics into communities. Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand, and India have all subsequently restricted post-consumer plastics imports.

Widespread Negative Impacts on U.S. Recycling Programs

The impacts on U.S. recycling programs and municipal budgets have been dramatic. One report found that the “China Ban” resulted in a 50 percent decrease in overall revenue for municipalities that sold recyclables due to the sudden lack of viable markets. Another found that the end market value of recyclable materials fell from more than $90 per ton at the beginning of 2017 to around $24 per ton at the end of 2019, as buyers for post-consumer materials grew increasingly scarce.

As post-consumer export restrictions took hold, municipal budgets tightened, taxpayers and ratepayers saw increased fees, and many programs eliminated certain items from collection lists that no longer had viable markets. Over 60 local recycling programs closed entirely.

PSI found that, on average, municipal recycling costs increased by about $900,000 per year, according to the local news reports that we have tracked. This figure varied widely with the size of the municipality, the region, and the program itself. For example, smaller communities like Parkside, PA and Kilgore, TX saw increases of $13,000 per year and $20,000 per year, respectively. By contrast, larger municipalities experienced bigger impacts. Boston, MA saw a $4.8 million increase in recycling costs in 2019. In Philadelphia, costs rose from $5 per ton of collected material to $106 per ton. Many U.S. programs that used to earn a revenue from selling recycling saw that revenue dramatically decrease or disappear, or had to pay processors to take the recyclable materials for the first time, drastically increasing their net recycling costs. Phoenix, AZ and San Diego, CA saw revenues drop $5.6 million per year and $3.4 million per year, respectively.

In states where individual residents (ratepayers) fund recycling programs directly, residents paid on average $1.96 more per month, with increases as high as $5 per month in communities in Massachusetts and Illinois.   

PSI’s research also found that the impacts of the China Ban on municipal recycling have been exacerbated by the financial effects of the coronavirus pandemic. Under the pressure of rising recycling costs coupled with the financial strain of the pandemic, several communities report that they are seriously considering closing their recycling programs permanently.  

Municipalities in every region are still struggling to find affordable ways to recycle, accepting fewer materials, and raising residents’ rates even though China’s Ban was enacted over two years ago. Where local programs have closed, residents are often left with no choice but to dispose of recyclables in their household trash. In some instances, collected recyclables have ultimately been disposed due to a lack of viable end markets, often to the dismay of residents. But while these negative impacts are concerning, we should not go back to the inequitable global export model we used to rely on. Clearly, something must change.

Photo by Magda Ehlers on Pexels.com

Creating a More Equitable System

By implementing Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) for packaging and paper products in the United States, we will shift the financial and managerial  burden of recycling away from overburdened municipalities and taxpayers to the companies that produce, sell, and profit from consumer products, and stop burdening poorer countries that did not produce the waste in the first place. Without a healthy domestic economy for recycling, we incur lost economic value, lost jobs, and an enormous cost to human and environmental health. We all stand to benefit in this more equitable system – from enhanced quality and supply of recycled content for packaging and other products, from U.S. jobs in the recycling and manufacturing sectors, and from healthier communities.

As we look ahead to the 2021 legislative session, PSI is working with our members and partners in many states and at the federal level to develop and support effective EPR for packaging bills. Our work is based on our model, a set of recommendations and policy options developed through close collaboration with our members. PSI’s EPR model has been incorporated into the federal Break Free from Plastic Pollution Act, recently introduced by U.S. Senator Tom Udall and U.S. Representative Alan Lowenthal to reduce packaging waste. The model has also influenced the development of EPR legislation for packaging in numerous states, including New York, Vermont, Massachusetts, Maine, Connecticut, Maryland, Washington, Oregon, and California.

We urge you to support emerging bills that use EPR to address the recycling crisis, to consider this approach for your own state, and to engage your company in this process.

For more information, we have plenty of resources to help. We recently updated and re-released our EPR for Packaging and Paper Products (PPP) report. This report provides guidance on the fundamentals of EPR for PPP and how it can effectively increase packaging recycling and recovery, reduce contamination, and develop markets for difficult-to-recycle materials. It includes the most up-to-date information about four successful Canadian programs, and an in-depth case study of program in British Columbia, the first full producer responsibility program for packaging in North America.

PSI is also working with the Flexible Packaging Association to mediate a set of shared principles of EPR for PPP in the United States, which is the first time industry and government have come together to work substantively on EPR policy for packaging.

The 2018 China Ban was a hard awakening for U.S. municipal recycling programs, and for two years local governments have struggled with the repercussions. Exporting our waste to developing countries is no longer a solution. It is time to put in place modern, equitable recycling systems that are better for both our planet and the financial and physical health of communities both here and abroad.

Recycling Programs + Single-Use Plastics Policies Remain Impacted by Pandemic

By Brendan Adamczyk & Olivia Den Dulk

In June, PSI examined the initial impacts of COVID-19 on US recycling programs as municipalities suspended services and re-evaluated their budgets. Cities with recycling programs were struggling with the initial impacts of the pandemic. In Miami, FL residents were instructed to mix trash and recycling and in Los Angeles, CA recycling materials were diverted to the landfill. This summer, we continued monitoring the effects of the pandemic on recycling programs and found that while many recycling pick-up and drop-off services have reopened, other impacts continue to present serious challenges for recycling programs. Cities of various sizes across the country have continued to face two key difficulties: First, recycling programs contended with employee shortages as staff tested positive for the novel coronavirus, quarantined because of possible exposure, or stayed home due to the risk that the virus presented. Second, residents disposed of more trash and recycling while spending more time at home.

Philadelphia, PA and Baltimore, MD both exemplified this two-fold problem this summer. Philadelphia residents disposed of 30% more trash during the pandemic and sanitation crews struggled to keep up, especially as some employees tested positive and had to take time off from work. Residents complained of unsightly trash left on the curb for days, and in August some crews had to resort to mixing trash and recycling. Baltimore experienced a 20% increase in trash, and several employees either contracted the virus or quit because of the virus risk. The city was overwhelmed by these compounding problems and announced that recycling pick-up would be suspended for at least a month beginning on August 31.

While several municipalities have reopened their recycling services, PSI expects that COVID-19 will continue to cause employee shortages and increased volumes for months to come as cities face new outbreaks and manage them by implementing lockdowns and restrictions. Budgetary impacts on recycling programs have also persisted since the outbreak of the pandemic. Some cities proposed terminating their curbside recycling programs altogether. Others switched to bi-weekly services. Some municipalities stopped accepting materials, such as cardboard and some plastics. It is clear, and concerning, that these changes will have a lasting impact on programs across the country, particularly as local governments are still grappling with with the budgetary impacts of the 2018 China Sword Policy.

Plastics Policies Rolled Back

Beyond recycling programs, COVID-19 has also had a major impact on plastic pollution policy across the United States. Since March of this year, PSI has been monitoring these changes on the city, county, and state levels in our COVID-19 Impacts on U.S. Plastics Policy tracker, chronicling delayed legislation, lifted bag bans and fees, and bans on reusable bags, as well as impacts on bottle deposits, other single-use plastics (such as polystyrene takeout containers), and relevant major news coverage.

What we have found is troubling: at least 79 policies rolling back restrictions on single-use plastic bags and takeout containers or banning reusable bags were imposed between March and August 2020, spanning 22 states and the District of Columbia. As of September 1, 45 of these policies, or 57%, remain in effect, with more than a dozen guaranteed to extend through the beginning of 2021 – just one of the many policy impacts of COVID-19. The graphics below indicate the impact on plastic bags, the biggest category impacted by recent changes:

It’s clear from this data that a wide swatch of municipalities rescinded or delayed bans on plastic products, with some even banning reusable bags outright, all based on claims that plastic helped reduce exposure to COVID-19. This idea was promoted by the plastics industry in mid-March, when they urged the U.S. Health and Human Services Department to speak out against bans and in support of single-use plastics. However, research soon revealed turning to plastics was not the solution, as a June 2020 statement signed by more than 125 health experts from 18 countries urged retailers, governments, and consumers alike that reusables were just as safe as single-use-plastics. This is the most recent example in a long pattern of the plastic industry placing the burden of systemic problems on individuals and deflecting focus from plastic pollution instead of taking responsibility for their role in the plastic pollution crisis.

What EPR Can Do

While the problem is clear, what is the solution? PSI advocates for Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) legislation for packaging and paper products that holds producers accountable for their products by shifting the financial and management burden of recycling from taxpayers and local governments to the packaging producers themselves. Around the world, EPR for packaging has helped solid waste programs weather the economic uncertainties of the China National Sword as well as the COVID-19 crisis. For example, a study conducted by Eco-Entreprises Quebec found that in the areas in Canada where EPR has been implemented, curbside recycling experienced fewer disruptions than in provinces without EPR. Furthermore, recycling services in provinces with EPR were far more resilient to the effects of COVID-19 than programs in the United States, despite Canadian programs facing the same challenges as the U.S., including a 30% increase in residential trash volume and employee shortages.

In the United States, at least 10 states will be considering EPR for plastic and packaging products in the upcoming 2021 legislative session, while the Break Free from Plastic Pollution Act, introduced in February 2020 by Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) and Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-CA), would implement EPR for packaging and paper products on a national scale, along with a nationwide container deposit requirement, bans on certain single-use plastic products, a carryout bag fee, and standardized labeling for recycling and disposal.

As the nation continues to work through this crisis, we need to aim higher than the status quo – now is the time to adopt EPR legislation for packaging and paper products in the U.S. so that we can stabilize and improve our recycling programs and build their resiliency in the face of any challenges that may lie ahead.  

Tackling Food Service Waste, Pre- and Post-Pandemic

In 2018, PSI published a guide for restaurants and eateries on how to reduce food service waste. Working with four restaurants and many community members in Greenport, New York, we developed concrete tools and steps these businesses could take in order to reduce their use of single-use plastics and other forms of disposable service ware, thereby reducing the amount of marine debris washing up on Long Island’s beaches. The project was such a success that we wanted to do more. In 2019, we received funding from New York Sea Grant to update and expand our Restaurant Guide by working with a group of restaurants in Buffalo, NY.

While Buffalo is not a coastal community like Greenport, it does sit right on the shores of Lake Eerie and is famously connected to Lake Ontario via Niagara Falls. Aquatic debris is common in the Great Lakes, and we were excited to join together with the Buffalo community to tackle the issue upstream. We started by partnering with restaurants, as well as Eerie and Niagara Counties, the City of Buffalo, the Visit Buffalo Niagara center, and local environmental advocates at Citizens’ Campaign for the Environment. Our aim was to develop customized plastic source reduction plans for all of our participating restaurants using the tools we had developed in Greenport, and to expand upon these existing tools with tailor-made materials that businesses could use to inform their customers about the changes they were making.

Unfortunately, our project did not quite go as planned. Early in 2020, the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 became a global pandemic and businesses across the U.S. were forced to shut down. All of our participating restaurants in Buffalo were impacted, either closing temporarily or switching to take-out-only business models. Sadly, the switch to take-out required them to use a lot of disposable service ware. As we checked in with our Buffalo partners, our conversations with them about their switch to take-out got us thinking… How could we best support them moving forward to ensure they could remain open and serving their customers safely while operating in a completely new – and much more disposable – world? Thanks to quick responses from NY Sea Grant and the project’s advisory committee, we were able to pivot our work to focus on the impacts of COVID-19 on restaurant waste, focusing our attention on creating resources for our partner restaurants and the broader Buffalo community.

We are proud to present our updated Guide for Restaurants and Eateries: 5 Easy Steps to Reduce Plastic and Benefit your Business. The Guide and accompanying web hub are complete with helpful tips for reducing plastic waste while operating as a take-out/delivery business, and models for safe, sustainable waste reduction in a post-COVID landscape.

Here’s a shout-out to the amazing restaurants we worked with for this project:

  • Bob Syracuse, owner of the Pizza Plant Italian Pub in Buffalo and Williamsville, was the very first restaurant to partner with us. Bob is not only dedicated to sustainability in food service – which was clear through his participation in the project’s advisory committee – he also serves on the Western New York Chapter of the New York State Restaurants Association. Bob was a true leader on this project.
  • Years ago, owner Ellie Grenauer of Williamsville’s Glen Park Tavern started the Williamsville farmers market with a friend, creating the ideal source for local produce for her restaurant all summer long. After pledging to reduce the restaurant’s plastic footprint with us, Ellie also eliminated plastic bags and switched to compostable straws.
  • At the Parkside Meadow restaurant in Buffalo, proprietor Nancy Abramo already recycled cardboard – and lots of it – as well as all wine and liquor bottles. She also used sugarcane-based clamshells for to-go orders placed over the phone and experimented with switching to paper straws. Because paper straws can be pricey, she ultimately told her servers not to provide them unless requested, which elicited a largely positive response from patrons.
  • Angelo Ashker, owner of Ashker’s, had implemented a progrm for customers wishing to avoid disposable take-out items. His popular bottle trade program gave customers a glass bottle with a lid for juices or iced coffees – and even snacks like overnight oats and hummus – which they could return for a trade value on their next purchase. On double-value days, customers would receive even deeper discounts for returning their jars. For in-house dining, nearly everything at Ashker’s was reusable. Angelo was not pleased to be using plastic products for to-go orders outside of the bottle trade program and was in the midst of launching a deposit-based system for reusable take-out containers before the pandemic. Angelo’s vision is to partner with other local restaurants to create a network of pick-up and return locations for reusable take-out containers throughout Buffalo, casting a wider net for eco-minded customers and further reducing the community’s plastic footprint.
  • The Dapper Goose in Buffalo had already eliminated nearly every single-use item before connecting with us and was actively looking into its last target: straws. 

COVID-19 Impacts U.S. Recycling Programs

By Sydney Harris, Senior Policy Associate, Product Stewardship Institute

As states responded to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, municipal recycling programs across the U.S. felt the impacts. Eco-Entreprises Quebec, the PRO for packaging and paper products in Quebec, provided funding for PSI to track the impacts of the virus on U.S. recycling programs. PSI found that, although many states deemed recycling an essential public service or a critical piece of manufacturing for high-demand items such as toilet paper and shipping boxes, dozens of local programs were put on pause due to staffing shortages and health concerns. Furthermore, commercial and bottle deposit materials decreased dramatically, while residentially generated trash and recycling volumes sharply increased, with notable impacts to the recycling supply chain

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Though “Essential,” Recycling Suspended in Many Communities

Beginning in March, at least 40 states issued stay-at-home orders that closed all non-essential businesses and directed residents to stay inside for several weeks or more. At least 10 of these states specifically named recycling on lists of essential services, while most others allowed recycling to continue as either public works services or critical manufacturing. Unfortunately, dozens of curbside and drop-off recycling programs were still suspended; many remain on hold as of early June. Residents were frequently instructed to comingle recyclables with trash for curbside collection, while some programs offered the option to store materials at home until services resumed. The largest municipal programs impacted by the pandemic were Miami, FL, where residents were instructed to comingle materials with trash; Los Angeles, CA, where at least half of curbside materials collected were diverted to landfill; and Philadelphia, PA, where curbside collection was suspended for a week and then scaled back to bi-weekly to accommodate staffing shortages. In some jurisdictions, curbside recycling materials were diverted to waste-to-energy plants.

Safety the Priority, but PPE in Short Supply

set of medical protective face masks

Consensus emerged within the medical community that handling waste and recyclables does not pose a significant transmission risk to workers, provided employee safety is prioritized with adequate social distancing and personal protective equipment (PPE) such as masks, gloves and sometimes gowns or face shields. The Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA), the National Waste & Recycling Association (NWRA), ISRI, and the Northeast Resource Recovery Association (NRRA) all issued guidance on best practices for worker safety.

In late March, NWRA wrote to the Director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) requesting that waste and recycling workers receive priority access to PPE,  but waste and recycling collectors across the country still experienced PPE shortages. Some programs turned to creative solutions to procure PPE for employees, such as the Chittenden Solid Waste District (CSWD) in Vermont, which purchased washable cloth masks for all staff online. In Swanzey, NH, residents worked together to create cloth masks for sanitation workers.

Residential Volumes Up, Commercial Volumes Down

Haulers experienced significant increases in residential trash and recycling volumes in nearly every state – sometimes up 40% from average amounts. Many operators cited an increase in spring cleaning as a contributing factor, in addition to people simply generating more of their waste at home. With reduced staffing and increased generation, municipal programs struggled to keep up. At the same time, haulers saw an unprecedented decline in commercially generated waste as businesses closed their doors.

Bottle Bill Programs Almost Universally Interrupted

open grey metal soda can

Nine out of the ten U.S. states with bottle deposit bills temporarily suspended their programs to some degree. Most announced periods of non-enforcement, which, combined with a general decrease in people spending time outside, effectively shuttered the programs. Even where programs remained open, grocery stores and drop-off facilities often stopped accepting containers for redemption, and many residents simply began storing bottles and cans at home.

The Result: Major Supply Chain Impacts

Lack of commercial and bottle deposit materials, coupled with the steep increase in residential volumes, caused major shifts in the recycling supply chain. Because commercial materials and deposit containers are typically less contaminated than residential materials, they comprise the primary feedstock for packaging remanufacturing in the U.S. For example, roughly 40% of recycled aluminum and 60% of cullet used to manufacture cans, bottles, and jars in the U.S. comes from deposit programs.

Meanwhile, residential materials tend to be shipped to end markets for durable goods, such as automotive manufacturing. During the height of state shut-downs, demand all but ended for durable goods manufacturing while packaging demand spiked with the increase in packaged food, beverage, and cleaning supply sales. To remain operational, packaging manufacturers began accepting curbside-collected materials as feedstock. For example, CarbonLite, a major bottle-to-bottle recycler that normally relies exclusively on PET recovered through the bottle deposit system for its California facility, reported obtaining 60% of its feedstock from residential curbside sources.

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The China Sword and the Pandemic Together Create Financial Woes

Long-term financial impacts of the coronavirus on U.S. recycling programs are uncertain. Municipalities were already facing increased recycling costs due to the lingering impacts of the China Sword policy. Now, these cost increases are exacerbated by potential rate adjustments due to spiking residential volumes and a continued decline in end markets for recycled materials, especially plastics. In a hopeful turn, however, municipal programs began to reopen around the country in late April, and have continued to reopen ever since.

Photos by Karolina Grabowska, Pexels.com


 

sydney_2020

Sydney Harris, PSI

COVID-19 has impacted the recycling industry and product stewardship community in many ways. While some entities are innovating to ensure environmental protection, others are abusing the situation to push single-use plastics.

PSI’s efforts to track the impacts on plastics use has gained the attention of Vice News, and we are also tracking impacts and new best practices for other products, such as electronics, HHW, and more. Share your experience — take our survey to help us better understand the impact of COVID-19 on U.S. product stewardship programs.

Safe Operations Key to Product Take-Back Programs

While trash and recycling collection are considered essential services during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, product take-backs often aren’t included under that umbrella. Unfortunately, interrupted take-back programs mean higher risks for public health and the environment, as people store or even improperly dispose of hazardous materials. Suspending take-back programs also means revenue and job losses in the case of paint, mattresses, carpets, electronics, and other materials that provide valuable feedstock to recyclers.

PSI wants to get people back to work while protecting worker and public health, by sharing collection and processing best practices, so we’re asking you to respond to a quick survey to help us identify program impacts from COVID-19, major trends, and best practices. As nationwide restrictions are relaxed over time, states will open up at different times and will need guidelines for safely getting back to work.

Recycling: Every Airman must do their partPSI has already learned, for example, that electronics recyclers are experiencing a significant reduction in incoming volumes of material (reported to be as low as 30% of normal levels). Many recyclers are being forced to lay off staff given low material supply from residences, retail stores that serve as collection sites, and nonprofits like Goodwill. Recyclers are adjusting their business practices to include social distancing, staggering shifts, and the use of personal protection equipment. Some are also making the collection process contactless and letting incoming material sit for 24 hours before processing.

The Mattress Recycling Council, which says that it has “activated plans to continue operations and limit service disruptions while also keeping health best practices,” has posted COVID-related guidelines for transporters, collectors, recyclers, and retailers. Members of the International Paint Recycling Association, which PSI helped create, have adopted similar practices to protect their workers while still producing recycled paint. Chittenden County, VT is working on new procedures to re-open its household hazardous waste (HHW) facility, including using a scheduling app to ensure residents can safely drop off materials. As restrictions begin to lift, more communities (like Kane County, IL) are developing “return to service” guidelines to restart collections. PaintCare is advising consumers who are planning to drop off paint for recycling to contact drop-off sites in advance and asking them to follow CDC guidelines to protect themselves and others, and is rescheduling drop-off events planned through June.

face-mask-5067668_1920Safely resuming collections is imperative, as COVID-19 has left us at home, where many people have cleaned out closets, bathrooms, and sheds, revealing leftover and unwanted paint, medications, and HHW. In a sign of the times, US EPA is even stressing the importance of properly disposing of PPE. Our current circumstances could lead to greater demand for take-back across products, as well as increased awareness about product stewardship programs.

With social distancing and other safety measures in place for the foreseeable future, new practices that safely continue take-back programs are vital. PSI will also be working with state product stewardship councils across the country to learn how states are handling impacts of the virus.  If you have questions or information to share, please contact Rachel Perlman, PSI Senior Associate.

Waste Reduction Policies Facing Rollbacks Amid Global Pandemic

As the novel coronavirus continues to spread throughout the U.S., state and local governments are working tirelessly to respond and adapt. The primary concern for all of us in this trying time is the health and safety of our communities, especially the essential workers in health care, sanitation, retail, transportation and public safety who are putting themselves at risk to help stop the spread of COVID-19.

Unfortunately, state and local governments are facing increasing pressure to reverse, delay or otherwise roll back environmentally beneficial waste-reduction policies, such as fees or bans on plastic bags, in the name of public health.

The plastics industry in particular has argued that plastic bags are the most sanitary option for transporting food home from restaurants and grocery stores, and it has urged governments to act swiftly to lift restrictions on plastic bags and other single-use plastics. The industry has specifically called out reusable bags as unsanitary, although there is no scientific evidence to support the claim that properly sanitized reusable bags contribute to the transmission of COVID-19.

To date, neither the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) nor the World Health Organization has issued guidance advising against the use of reusable bags.

PSI has created a digital tracker to record the changes taking place across the United States. Thus far, Connecticut has lifted statewide fees on plastic bags while Massachusetts and New Hampshire have banned reusable bags in grocery stores, pharmacies, and – in the case of New Hampshire – all retail stores.

Massachusetts has also banned local jurisdictions from charging fees on single-use plastic, paper and compostable bags. Maine has delayed its recently enacted single-use plastic bag ban and 5-cent fee on paper bags until 2021. Several local jurisdictions across the country are placing bag bans and other single-use plastics policies on hold, as well. On a corporate level, many major chains, including Starbucks and Dunkin’, have restricted customers from bringing in reusable items, such as coffee mugs.

Repercussions of sidelining reuse

While the protection of our communities and essential workers is paramount in the short term, we must also acknowledge that increased use and disposal of single-use items has long-term implications for the environment and human health at each step of the consumer-products value chain, from production through waste management.

In the case of plastics, for instance, oil and natural gas extraction and refinement for plastics production causes chronic and sometimes fatal respiratory conditions, cancers, neurotoxicity, reproductive and developmental damage, and immune suppression in many thousands of people each year.

The everyday use of plastic products has been linked to cancer, endocrine disruption and other health problems for consumers. At their end-of-life, hundreds of thousands of tons of plastic products from the U.S. and other wealthier nations are shipped abroad to developing countries, where low-wage waste-pickers must sort through our rubbish to extract recyclable items. Much of this waste is openly burned, leading to further chronic health concerns. The conversion of petrochemicals into plastic products also has a tremendous carbon footprint.

While many suspensions on reusable items cite the quick disposal of single-use products as a boon to worker and consumer health, the resulting increase in waste adds to the challenges facing our already-strained collection system. The waste industry has braced for increased residential volumes since the start of the outbreak in the U.S. At the same time, the industry is dealing with a reduced workforce. As of April 9, at least 350 sanitation workers in New York City had tested positive for COVID-19.

Protecting communities from harmful chemicals and pollution has always been at the heart of local and state waste reduction policies such as bans or fees on plastic bags. While most of the rollbacks to these policies across the U.S. are temporary, it will be critical to ensure they do not lead to long-term policy reversals. The need for sustainable, sanitary reuse infrastructure to facilitate long-term waste reduction has become clear amid this crisis.

The role of EPR

Over the long term, product stewardship and extended producer responsibility (EPR) laws will help address many of the challenges with plastics and other single-use products in the U.S. by creating incentives for reuse, recycling and the production of materials with fewer environmental impacts, and by supporting infrastructure development for proper collection and recycling.

PSI’s recently released report, EPR for Packaging & Paper Products: Policies, Practices, & Performance, outlines problems faced by U.S. recycling programs and how EPR programs in four Canadian provinces have increased packaging recovery and recycling, reduced contamination and developed domestic markets for difficult-to-recycle materials.

As we look ahead to a post-COVID-19 future, PSI is hopeful that innovative product stewardship policies will provide avenues for reducing the production and consumption of single-use materials, increasing domestic reuse and recycling opportunities, and safeguarding public health and safety.

PSI will continue to track policy changes and advise members on responding to concerns about existing policies. If you have any updates on plastics or single-use policy changes stemming from the COVD-19 crisis, please add them to the tracker or contact Sydney Harris.

Sydney Harris is senior associate for policy and programs and Scott Cassel is CEO and founder of the Product Stewardship Institute (PSI). 

Supporting our Product Stewardship Community During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

PSI is reaching out at this trying time because you are part of our close community. First and foremost, we hope that everyone is safe and healthy. Whether we have known you for two decades or two months – please know that we are thinking of you. Our thoughts are especially with those in the areas most impacted in the U.S. and our friends in Europe, as well as our colleagues in public health and medical services who are combating this pandemic on the front lines.

The novel Coronavirus crisis demonstrates very clearly the importance of government in our society. We are proud to see so many state and local governments doing everything they can to safeguard public health and to see government and industry working cooperatively to find solutions.

This crisis also drives home the importance of reserving precious government resources for the most important services that government provides, including emergency and public health services. We fight every day for an equitable system where the true cost of products is borne by the producers and consumers of those products, not the most vulnerable among us.

Over the years PSI has developed a strong remote working infrastructure, so we are not missing a beat. Our team has been working from home since last week and we remain focused on supporting you in any way we can. So please, don’t hesitate to be in touch.

Warmly,

The PSI Team

Scott, Amanda, Kristin, Suna, Sydney, Josh, & Susan

Who is PSI?

This question is one we continually challenge ourselves to answer so that we stay on the cutting edge of the U.S. product stewardship movement. As we embark on a new decade full of opportunity for EPR, we want to ensure that the research, projects, legislative models and laws that we craft continue to be relevant.

PSI reflects the strength of the individuals and entities who embody the movement. While we have evolved, we stay close to our inner core. We bring together multiple parties with diverse interests to develop comprehensive plans to solve big waste management challenges. We are problem-solvers who base our policy recommendations on sound science, experience, and peer review. We advocate for product stewardship solutions that are shaped by our long list of members and partners. We are systems thinkers who dissect problems and craft solutions from various angles – environmental, economic, technological, political, and communication with the public. We understand the big picture context as well as the individual parts of resource consumption problems. Above all, we have maintained an ethic of credibility and personal responsibility while leading the U.S. product stewardship movement for the past 20 years.

Members of the PSI team and the International Paint Recycling Association (IPRA) together at the 2019 North American Hazardous Materials Management Association Conference.

Like all movements, ours would not have taken hold without the energy, skills, and advocacy of thousands of people, including those government officials in the northwest – Oregon and Washington – who were the early pioneers. The success we have jointly achieved has required policy innovators in state and local governments who risked agency rebuke to forge beyond the status quo. It took corporate talent who leveraged their social capital to look beyond pure profit to engage with others. And it took environmental activists who could share an agenda with other players to achieve joint goals.

A panel at the 2018 U.S. Product Stewardship Conference

At PSI’s inaugural conference in December 2000, more than 100 state and local government officials from 20 states came to Boston to learn about a new concept for holding product manufacturers responsible for financing and managing post-consumer products. That meeting sparked a national movement.

Today, 119 EPR laws have been passed in 33 states on 14 products, and 2019 was a banner year for the U.S. product stewardship movement. A record 50 EPR bills were introduced in 16 state legislatures across the country. Of those bills, 12 passed into law, one committed a legislature to introducing a bill in 2020, and four mandated studies that include EPR as the central solution.

2020 promises to be a critical year for the movement. Packaging bills will be introduced or discussed in at least eight states, and EPR bills on pharmaceuticals, paint, carpet, mattresses, artificial turf, and batteries are already being actively debated. And PSI is right in the middle of it all. We now look forward to the future with renewed passion for progress.

On September 8-10, in Portland, Oregon, PSI will celebrate our 20th Anniversary at the national U.S. Product Stewardship Forum. We are already hearing from colleagues who plan to attend from across the U.S., as well as from Germany, France, England, and Chile. We will acknowledge our roots, assess the growing U.S. and global EPR movements, and plan for the next 20 years of growth. We hope to see you there.

 

A Letter from Dave Galvin, PSI President Emeritus: What PSI means to the Product Stewardship Movement

by Dave Galvin,

President Emeritus, Product Stewardship Institute
First President, North American Hazardous Materials Management Association
Formerly with King County Local Hazardous Waste Program, WA

One of my grounding work philosophies was to innovate locally while coordinating nationally and even internationally (“think global, act local” we were told in the 1970s) for all of my 40 years working for Seattle Metro and King County.  We can learn from each other, but we have to be willing to innovate locally with a grounded view as to what is going on nationally and internationally, and how we can both learn from others and influence others.  I spent my career following those principals:  work locally to do the best job we could while coordinating nationally to learn from others and to influence others to keep us all moving in the right direction.  This yin-yang approach is, I believe, key to innovation and positive change at the local government level.

It was critically important for me to have a group such as PSI in order to learn from others around the country and beyond as well as to influence national policy direction.  Local governments can’t do these big policy lifts alone, they need coordinated help from others around the country and even beyond, such as the European Union.  Yet local governments have the flexibility to enact innovative polities that are more difficult to enact up the food chain.

PSI serves as the unique organization made up of state and local governments that helps us at the local and state levels to do the best we can with progressive policy issues related to product stewardship while coordinating nationally and internationally for the best results.  It is actually a conservative approach:  let local governments and states innovate, then learn from these models to develop national policy.

PSI is a model for positive policy development related to solid waste management, recycling and product stewardship initiatives.  We need to invest in PSI in order to keep the momentum for positive change:  to maximize recycling, and to shift the paradigm so that producers of waste are expected to pay for and run take-back systems for the wastes their products produce, from packaging to the end-of-life products themselves.  We need to keep pushing for these universal, global, ecological concepts as we deal with day-to-day politics.

I have enjoyed my 3+ decades of association with Scott Cassel and PSI, including serving as PSI board President for more than ten years.  PSI is the KEY organization that can integrate what we have learned over the past 40+ years, assess the current climate nationally and internationally, and lead progressive policy initiatives within receptive states and nationally as politics allow.

Please support and participate in PSI’s programs.  If we wish to fully address climate change, we need to address how we deal with wastes.  The sooner we can achieve a one-to-one take back system such as advocated by McDonough and Braungart’s classic tome from 2002, “Cradle to Cradle,” the better.  We need to do better than today’s reality.  We need to reach for the sky, for what will actually result in a sustainable future.

The Product Stewardship Institute has served as a compass for the past 20 years regarding a sustainable model for product design and waste management.  Let’s continue to push for this ideal in order to generate enough initiative locally and with states to influence the national and world view.  Product manufacturers need to take full responsibility for the life cycle of their outputs, including taking back and re-manufacturing end-of-life products they sell.  The sooner we can move to this conservative paradigm, the better!

Thanks for your support of PSI and its initiatives.  The more we can advocate for full product stewardship, the more our environment will benefit locally as well as across this fragile globe.

Tribute to Harold Siegel – PSI Advisory Council Member

Harold_Siegel_Profile_Imageby Scott Cassel

Harold Siegel was my favorite conservative. He was also a PSI Advisory Council member…my brother’s father-in-law, and my friend.

Harold passed away at age 89 on March 20 in New York City. He was still working at Excelsior Graphics, the business he built to prosperity. Harold was a Patriotic lover of this country, a great pool player, and someone who always listened to the other side.

We bonded one night years ago after seeing his grandson, my nephew, perform at a college play. At a bar that night over beers, we discussed the need to take action to protect the environment. I learned he was an environmentalist, believing companies should take responsibility for reducing the impacts of the products they put on the market.

Contrary to many conservatives, Harold saw no contradiction in a free market operating under needed regulation, which levels the playing field for all competitors. He gave me advice on how to frame issues so conservatives could support extended producer responsibility laws. I can’t say those strategies always worked, but many people don’t see the world as Harold did.

The last time I spoke to Harold was at his granddaughter’s (my niece’s) wedding only a few weeks ago. He was in the hospital for the week leading up to the wedding, but rallied to be present at the big day. At the brunch the next day, he recounted what PSI was doing from the recent newsletter he read. He read them all, and remembered what he read.

We were very different people. But in his decency, Harold engaged with me and others whose views were different. Through those conversations, we found important issues on which we agreed, and we built a strong relationship around environmental issues, which only strengthened our family ties.

My favorite book as a kid was Harold and the Purple Crayon. It was, aptly, about a kid named Harold who used a purple crayon to draw his way through life. Whatever he needed and wanted, he drew it, and thus made his own reality. I believe Harold Siegel saw his own world in this way. He had a kind approach that others found attractive, and he manifested this approach in the world.

I will miss him greatly, and I hope that his legacy of kindness, compassion, and willingness to engage with those with opposing views can be a lesson for us all.