Lessons from an E-Scrap Workshop

Several weeks ago, I ventured out to Indianapolis for the Indiana Recycling Coalition Conference to give a presentation on product stewardship and extended producer responsibility. I then headed over to another area of the conference center to participate in a panel as part of Indiana’s first E-cycle stakeholder meeting. In a room filled with dedicated solid waste managers, recyclers, environmentalists, and government officials, we took a look at Indiana’s current e-scrap recycling law to identify successes, challenges, and potential solutions.

Photo courtesy of Denise Szocka

Scott Cassel, Thom Davis, Katie Riley, and two representatives from Solid Waste Management Districts discuss the Indiana e-scrap recycling law. Photo courtesy of Denise Szocka.

Indiana’s electronics recycling law is an EPR law based on a “performance goal” system, meaning that manufacturers must collect a specific tonnage of e-scrap per year (i.e., their goal). In Indiana, manufacturers are responsible for collecting and recycling 60% of the total weight of video display devices that they sell. However, since the formula is based on sales of newer, light-weight electronics, and old bulky TVs are the heaviest and most common item collected, manufacturers reach their performance goals very quickly.

This has become a problem. When manufacturers have collected enough to meet their goal, they cut off payment to recyclers. Recyclers then stop accepting material from collection sites, or charge these sites a fee to take the material.

Photo courtesy of Denise Szocka

Four workshop attendees work together to identify problems and solutions.
Photo courtesy of Denise Szocka.

Once the basic problems were understood by the participants at the Indiana e-scrap workshop, they explored possible solutions. The conversation in that room was eerily similar to the stakeholder meetings held in New York and Illinois. Now that we have worked so hard at educating residents about the need to recycle electronics, we certainly don’t want to tell them that we can’t take what they bring us.

In the Indiana workshop, one of the potential solutions – raising performance goals – was suggested. In fact, both Illinois and Minnesota have passed updates to their laws just this year (which go into effect July 1, 2015), setting the performance goal at a specific fixed tonnage rather than at a percentage of yearly sales.

For a long-term, stable solution, however, changes should be made to the program structure. E-scrap programs with the highest collection rates – such as programs in Vermont, Oregon, Washington, and Maine – require manufacturers to meet convenience-based standards to ensure that a majority of residents have easy access to a collection site.

The panel and workgroup discussions at the Indiana e-scrap workshop were a great start to improving Indiana’s e-scrap law. These fixes won’t be easy to apply, and each state is having their own state-based discussions. At the same time, the Product Stewardship Institute is holding our own conversations with e-scrap program managers around the country to better understand the common issues they face so that we can help to instill greater stability in existing programs, and offer states with no e-scrap laws a roadmap for the future. Working together, we can come up with viable solutions that we hope will be implemented in years to come.

 

To read more about the different types of e-scrap programs and their results, check out the recent article in E-Scrap News, “Struggling State-by-State,” by PSI’s Resa Dimino.

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A Professional Dumpster Diver Finds Trends in Trash

By Alisa Opar, Western Correspondent at Earthwire
*This post has been republished with permission from OnEarth, the magazine of the Natural Resources Defense Council, originally titled “The Professional Dumpster Diver”.

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When digging through hundreds of pounds of trash, it’s best to be on your guard. “There’s always the chance something will jump out at you,” says Jack Chappelle. Mice, rats, and raccoons have all burst forth from garbage heaps Chappelle that has waded through. “We’ve only had one or two snakes.”

While the last time you probably went rooting around in rubbish was back in your middle-school cafeteria (in search of a retainer), Chappelle undertakes this unsavory task for a living. A solid-waste expert with Kansas-based Engineering Solutions & Design, he dissects trash to determine what people are pitching in order to help stem the flow of refuse to landfills. Right now he’s wrapping up a project for five Nebraska communities that want to be able to send zero waste to landfills.

The United States has plenty of room to trim its waste. Every year Americans produce 251 million tons of trash. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, about 164 million tons end up in landfills or incinerators, where it spews greenhouse gases into the atmosphere as it breaks down or burns. Yard trimmings, food waste, paper, paperboard, and plastics comprise nearly 70 percent of this trash (the remainder is a mix of metal, textiles, wood, and other stuff). Recycling and composting have helped make a significant dent: In 2012, the practices diverted nearly 87 million tons of municipal solid waste, preventing the release of about 168 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent into the air—equal to pulling 33 million cars off the road for a year. Still, we could do better.

To find out how, towns and solid-waste management companies in Nebraska, Ohio, Missouri, and Kansas have hired Chappelle’s company to analyze their waste streams.

Chappelle approaches malodorous trash mounds like a geologist confronting a hunk of sedimentary rock. But instead of shells, pebbles, and coal seams, he’s picking out weedwackers, tater tots, tampons, and Chinese-food containers. On any given day, he’s at the landfill, waiting for a garbage truck to dump a load from a residential or commercial area. Then Chappelle makes his first move. He walks around the fresh—perhaps too fresh—delivery clockwise and then counterclockwise.

“Whether you’re inside or out, the light will hit the waste differently, and you’ll see different things from different angles,” he explains. Chappelle is looking for “seams,” or large quantities of one kind of waste, such as cardboard. He’ll also note large objects like lawn mowers that might skew the results but are still important to note.

Then his team will transfer about 300 pounds of trash to tables and separate it all into bins. “That’s about it,” says Chappelle. “It’s a relatively simple process, but it tells you a lot about a community.”

recycling_smlOnce everything is tallied, he sends his recommendations to his clients. Sometimes the town’s solid-waste managers are interested in building recycling operations and are looking for guidance on what kinds of facilities they’ll need. Most of the time, however, they want to understand exactly what people are getting rid of so they can launch targeted campaigns to encourage inhabitants to siphon specific goods out of the waste stream, such as by removing compostable foodstuffs or recyclable plastic milk jugs.

Doing the dirty deed over and over again has allowed Chappelle to get a sense of the varying trash habits of rural and urban communities. Those differences are largely food-based. Suburbanites and city dwellers tend to eat more processed foods (those mac-n-cheese boxes and McDonald’s bags give them away), chuck out less food waste overall (probably due to the use of sink garbage disposals), and have diets that incorporate more exotic fruits and vegetables.

In the nearly 15 years he’s been at it, Chappelle has seen trends both encouraging and disturbing. E-waste has dramatically dropped over the past decade (EPA stats back up his observation), as has the volume of newspapers and magazines (a sad fact, ahem, if you’re a journalist). The skyrocketing quantity of disposable adult diapers, on the other hand, Chappelle finds worrisome. “When we first started, in the early 2000s, diapers were exclusively the domain of babies,” he says. “Now it’s probably 50-50, but by weight, you’d need three or four really solid baby diapers to match one adult diaper.” Single-use nappies might be convenient, but they take 450 years to decompose.

On nearly early every project his company has undertaken, somebody—a community member or an employee of the client—has volunteered to pitch in as Chappelle’s crew sorts trash. “They want to see what is going on and help out,” he says. Chappelle is always happy for their interest, but notes that they tend to be more tenderfoot, less trash hound. Not one has lasted an entire day.

About the Author
Alisa Opar is Earthwire’s Western correspondent. She is also the articles editor at Audubon magazine, and has written for many publications about science and the environment.

What Big Pharma Can Learn From the Paint Industry

By Scott Cassel, Chief Executive Officer and Founder, Product Stewardship Institute

1028441_27922878It was one of those quiet moments of victory for environmentalists and public health advocates: In 2012, Alameda County’s Board of Supervisors unanimously adopted the nation’s first ordinance requiring pharmaceutical manufacturers to fund and manage a drug take-back program.

Millions of overprescribed, unused, and expired medications contribute to drug abuse, accidental poisonings, aquatic impacts, and water quality issues. The trash or drain is not a safe method for disposing drugs – which is why King County, Washington; San Mateo County, California; and San Francisco, California followed suit with similar ordinances.

Big Pharma, however, has spent the last three years fighting back in the courts, arguing that the Alameda law interferes with interstate commerce. After two lower court decisions cited no interstate commerce violation, Big Pharma took the case to the U.S. Supreme Court. The high court recently declined to hear the pharmaceutical industry’s case against the Alameda County Safe Drug Disposal Ordinance. Whether Big Pharma will continue to pursue its costly litigation strategy remains to be seen, but one thing is clear: if the industry instead chose to collaborate, it could help shape a long-term, cost-effective solution that protects all interests – economic, health, and environmental.

Drug take-back laws may be new, but laws requiring manufacturers to take responsibility for the safe disposal of their products are not. What’s more is that not all industries continuously push back and fight against such laws. Currently, there are 8 states (and the District of Columbia) that require the paint industry to fund and manage the recycling and safe disposal of leftover paint; all of these laws were developed in collaboration with the American Coatings Association (ACA), which represents over 95 percent of U.S. paint manufacturers.
867237_92898831First some background: Back in 2002, the Product Stewardship Institute (PSI) asked the paint industry to take responsibility for managing leftover household paint because, when poured down the drain or sent to landfills, leftover paint threatens aquatic ecosystems and wastes valuable resources. Managing paint wastes is typically the most costly part of municipal household hazardous waste programs as well. PSI estimated that it would cost paint manufacturers about $650 million each year to safely recycle or dispose of the estimated 75 million gallons of leftover paint generated yearly in the United States.

After initial reluctance, the paint industry agreed to meet with PSI and some of PSI’s state and local government members. After nearly a dozen meetings and multiple calls over four years, PSI and ACA reached an agreement in 2007 on a model state program that would be implemented nationwide. Since then, the nine aforementioned jurisdictions have used that model to adopt laws holding the paint industry responsible for collecting and properly managing all leftover paint in their area; similar bills are pending in another dozen states. As a result, 8 million gallons of paint have been diverted from disposal so far in the first five states in which the paint stewardship program has been implemented, saving local governments over $50 million in transportation and processing costs, according to paint industry estimates.

What can the pharmaceutical industry learn from this?

  1. Producer responsibility doesn’t hurt the bottom line. Since ACA’s PaintCare program was first adopted in Oregon in 2010, paint sales are still strong, retailers have the opportunity to offer a new service to their consumers, and paint recycling is on the rise. Through its PaintCare program, the paint industry has gotten out in front of the regulations, working with government to shape laws that fit with their business model. ACA representatives are regularly called upon to speak at state recycling conferences in sessions that highlight the industry’s successful demonstration of corporate sustainability and public-private collaboration. The lesson: an industry can take responsibility for its post-consumer products, and not only does it not hurt the bottom line – it often ends up benefitting them overall.
  1. Producer responsibility programs show immediate results. In just five years, the paint industry has made convenient paint take-backs available to at least 95% of residents in three states, and local governments have saved millions of dollars of taxpayer money. Unlike other recycling programs that funnel collected fees into a government fund and require significant government hours to manage (e.g., scrap tire laws), the paint stewardship program is largely run by the paint industry, alleviating the need for a large bureaucracy to handle day-to-day operations.
  1. Dialogue doesn’t mean a loss of control. It enables industry to shape policy that is effective and cost efficient. When PSI approached ACA with its request, the industry agreed to begin talks. What resulted was a national multi-stakeholder dialogue that led to joint research to answer key questions, such as “what will this program actually cost?” and “how will paint be collected and recycled?” From the beginning, ACA helped shape the program’s development; when the first bills were drafted, ACA was in the driver’s seat. The solution developed was an innovative funding model that worked for both industry and other stakeholders.

With the number of prescription drug overdoses rising annually, the risk posed by leftover medications raises the stakes, as well as the opportunity, for the pharmaceutical industry to take the lead and create convenient medicine take-back programs for U.S. residents. Such a program is within reach, and would cost the pharmaceutical industry roughly $3.51 per capita annually for the safe collection and disposal of pharmaceuticals, according to estimates from King County, WA. Similar programs have operated for years in Canada and at least a dozen European countries, taking the financial burden off of taxpayers.

This is clear: the pressure on the pharmaceutical industry isn’t going away. The path for industry-funded producer responsibility has been paved; with 88 producer responsibility laws operating in 33 states across the US for 12 different product categories, there is ample proof that take-back legislation can be implemented successfully. The pharmaceutical industry could be poised to become the next big success story – if it is willing.

More printed catalogs mean more energy, water and paper gone to waste

By Natalie Nava, Operations Manager, Catalog Choice

A few weeks ago, my grandfather celebrated his 93rd birthday. He lives alone, and so after the celebration my mother and I decided to help go through his mail. In his large pile of mail were 30 calendars from charitable and political organizations my grandfather had sent nominal donations to over the years. If junk mail is a nuisance in your life, you’re not alone. Since the 1990s, national reports have shown that more than 80% people don’t like receiving junk mail and wish they could make it stop.

man shovels mailI oversee operations of Catalog Choice, a service that helps people opt-out of certain types of junk mail, mostly paper catalogs. In 2013, many more catalogs were mailed to American homes compared to previous years – 11.9 billion to be exact (catalog mailings peaked at 19.6 billion in 2007). Why the spike? Because many companies, even those without brick-and-mortar storefronts, consider “multi-channel marketing” important for driving sales. Catalogs also have certain advantages over other kinds of marketing tools; they track return-on-investment more easily than social media campaigns, and (let’s face it) the elegant and expertly-shot layouts in printed catalogs make products come alive in a more visceral way than online.

Restoration Hardware knows this perhaps better than any other merchant: in 2014, their record-breaking, 3,000-page annual catalog boosted sales for the year. But it also sparked a flurry of negative comments on social media about the paper waste from folks who had no interest in purchasing from the company.

So let’s talk about the downsides of all these unwanted catalogs. Aside from Restoration Hardware’s catalog brick arriving on our porches, it’s rare that we consider the impacts of the paper industry. But in fact, its impact is huge. As a few examples, the Department of Energy stated that the paper industry is the fourth largest industrial user of energy, behind chemical production and petroleum and metal refining. Meanwhile, ForestEthics estimates that mail advertisements generate 51.5 million metric tons of greenhouse gases every year.

It’s important to recognize the companies that are printing catalogs more responsibly, such as Patagonia, who uses FSC-certified paper to print their catalog. Even Restoration Hardware purchased carbon offsets for their massive sourcebook! These options are better, but unfortunately they’re not sufficient. Neither is recycling, as it simply cannot neutralize the paper, energy and carbon costs required for the production of new catalogs. And limited recycling infrastructure in some areas means that about 40% of all unwanted catalogs end up in landfills without having ever been opened. What a waste!

Business Reply MailWhen we consider certain realities – water scarcity, consumer privacy concerns, or the increasing amount of purchases made online – is junk mail really worth it? At least from the perspective of businesses, the answer seems to be a resounding yes for now. Meanwhile, there is a growing movement of individuals and organizations pushing corporations to take greater accountability. This movement includes solutions like extended producer responsibility legislation, which would make companies responsible for the final disposal of their products; or a national Do Not Mail list, which would allow people to opt-out of all junk mail in one simple step. We’re excited for this movement to take off, and in the meantime, our goal is for Catalog Choice to spark dialogue about paper consumption and waste issues and help people simplify their lives.

You may create an account at catalogchoice.org to start opting out of catalogues today.

The Story of Stuff Project seeks to transform the way we make, use and throw away Stuff. On March 24, 2015, The Story of Stuff Project acquired Catalog Choice to help people save trees and simplify their lives by reducing unwanted junk mail. Natalie Nava oversees operations of Catalog Choice. You can reach her at natalie@catalogchoice.org.

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A Letter to Big Pharma

PSI submitted the following letter to the Wall Street Journal last week, responding to pharma’s op-ed, “Bad Drug Trip in Alameda.” While the letter was not published, the argument still stands, further solidified by today’s Supreme Court decision in which the Court declined to hear pharma’s petition against the Alameda County Safe Drug Disposal Ordinance.* This decision means that current take-back laws in Alameda County, CA; San Francisco, CA; San Mateo, CA; and King County, WA will remain in effect.

 

drug-take-back

In the May 17 editorial, “Bad Drug Trip in Alameda,” the author criticizes Alameda County, California, for passing a law requiring pharmaceutical companies to provide drug take-back programs in the county, calling the law “protectionist” and based on “a speculative fear.”

Alameda’s law is necessary because pharmaceutical companies have not taken responsibility for the millions of overprescribed, unused, and outdated medications that contribute to drug abuse, accidental poisonings, aquatic impacts, and water quality concerns. The trash or drain is not a safe method for disposing drugs — which is partly why support for these kinds of laws is widespread and growing.

The White House’s Office of National Drug Control Policy, several federal agencies, and 43 state agencies all support programs to collect and safely dispose of unused medications. Four provinces in Canada and nearly a dozen countries already have pharma-funded and operated drug take-back programs. In addition to Alameda County, three other U.S. counties have adopted similar ordinances. There are 84 other state and local laws that require manufacturers to fund and safely manage the disposal of consumer products.

The US Constitution gives Congress the exclusive power to regulate interstate commerce in Article 1. Big Pharma’s challenge is primarily based on the dormant commerce clause, which maintains that states cannot burden interstate commerce. This burden is subject to a balancing test, one that calls a law illegal only if the burden on commerce is clearly excessive when compared to local benefits.

Do the local benefits – limiting drug abuse and accidental poisonings, and protecting water quality and aquatic organisms – outweigh the burden the pharmaceutical industry must incur to pay for take-back programs? We at PSI think so – and hope the Supreme Court does too

Scott Cassel
Chief Executive Officer and Founder
Product Stewardship Institute
Boston, MA

*For more information on this case, see PSI’s fact sheet exploring the implications of the decision, and another fact sheet outlining the history of this legal challenge.

Where do our old electronics end up?

By Susan Cosier, Journalist at EarthWire
*This post has been republished with permission from OnEarth, the magazine of the Natural Resources Defense Council, originally titled “Landfill Life”. Photos have been republished with permission from Kevin McElvaney.

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We toss a lot of electronic waste—46 million tons in 2014 alone. And even though smartphones, computers, and televisions contain valuable metals like copper and sometimes even gold, less than one-sixth are recycled properly. So impoverished people all over the world, in places such as Agbogbloshie, Ghana—where these photos were taken—go into dumps looking to see what they can scavenge and sell at markets. Landfills, of course, aren’t healthy places to spend a lot of time in.

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In 2013 photographer Kevin McElvaney captured these powerful images of men and children lighting fires to burn away the rubber and plastic of discarded objects to get to what’s inside. The fumes trigger breathing difficulties, nausea, and headaches, but still they press on, trying to make a living off the resources we take for granted.

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For information on solutions to electronics waste — particularly product stewardship solutions — please visit the PSI website

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A New, Easy Way to Recycle Your Old Thermostat

Household thermostatBy Matt Newman, Director of Business Management, Covanta

How do you build a successful thermostat collection program in a short period of time?

Public/private partnerships.

That’s exactly how a new initiative was recently launched in Oklahoma. Covanta Tulsa, Locke Supply, the Oklahoma Department Environmental Quality (ODEQ), the Thermostat Recycling Corporation (TRC), and the Product Stewardship Institute (PSI) teamed up to start a new state-wide collection program in a relatively short period of time.

Covanta has a long history of caring about the proper disposal of mercury-containing items, and the need for a collection program in Oklahoma was evident. Using the positive relationships we have built in the many years we have operated in the state, we were pleased to be the catalyst that brought these diverse groups together to provide a convenient way to responsibly recycle mercury-containing thermostats. Thanks to the collaborative work of the five aforementioned organizations, citizens and contractors are now able to deliver intact old thermostats to any Locke Supply location for recycling free of charge.

The thermostat recycling initiative in Oklahoma began with a brief meeting with Fenton Rood of ODEQ to develop a state-wide solution for thermostat recycling that could supplement periodic household hazardous waste collection days that are held in some communities. From there, we decided to look for a retail storefront solution that would allow ubiquitous collection during normal business hours. Locke Supply, with their numerous locations around the state, was the perfect fit.

Thermostat recycling containers are now in place at convenient and accessible locations throughout Oklahoma. When full, containers will be shipped to TRC for proper disposal and recycling. In an attempt to incentivize collection even further, Locke Supply obtained participation from a few of their new thermostat suppliers to offer a “bounty” program: bring in an old thermostat with mercury switches and Locke Supply will provide a $10 coupon for a programmable replacement thermostat.

Mercury thermostat recovery and recycling offers everyone the opportunity to eliminate a toxic material from the waste stream, while incentivizing the purchase of electronic thermostats that allow for more efficient heating and cooling. By identifying a diverse group of organizations with common interests, Covanta has now proudly provided one more way to protect the state’s land, air and water from unnecessary pollution.

Matt Newman joined Covanta Energy in 2008 and has over 25 years experience in the energy industry which includes renewable energy, electricity generation, asset optimization, risk management and fossil fuel management. In his current position, Mr. Newman is responsible for all business aspects for the Covanta Tulsa Renewable Energy, LLC, as well as carrying additional responsibilities for the South Region of Covanta Energy’s extensive fleet of Energy from Waste facilities in the United States. For additional information, Matt may be reached at mnewman@covanta.com.

Looking to start a thermostat collection program like this one in your area? Contact PSI for guidance at suna@productstewardship.us or (617) 671-0616.

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