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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A Product Stewardship Approach to “Flushable” Wipes?

By Dave Galvin, Hazardous Waste Program Manager at the King County Local Hazardous Waste Management Program

To flush or not to flush? This is a question many of us have faced over the years. Those who live with on-site septic systems are particularly sensitive to the quandary of what goes down the drain. Anything other than human waste and toilet paper (that is specifically made to break apart almost immediately) should be kept out of such systems, especially if there are small pumps involved along the way, which can easily clog. After you’ve had to clean a clogged pump or pipe by hand, your sensitivity to such matters goes up exponentially.

flLarge municipal wastewater systems, it turns out, have similar concerns. Items that don’t break down quickly do not belong in the sewer. Many such items end up jamming even industrial-scale pumps and other machinery, costing millions of dollars each year in the US for repairs. Other material, including small plastics and latex, don’t decompose in the normal sewage treatment process and end up contaminating the leftover solids, which, in many locales, are beneficially reused as a soil amendment known as a biosolid. This is analogous to finding plastic fruit stickers and bags in the municipal compost — “hard to handle” end-of-life management.

Some consumer products are labeled as “flushable,” but are they really? Items such as baby wipes and skin cleaners, paper towels, feminine care products, condoms, diapers, and even dental floss, are usually not designed to break apart immediately and are thus not intended to be flushed. Some wipes are marketed as “flushable” while others as “disposable”; they are made by the nonwoven fabric industry and are supposed to meet certain voluntary guidelines developed by this industry.

A group of wastewater and water quality associations is meeting with representatives of the nonwoven fabric industry (via a trade association known as the International Nonwovens and Disposables Association) to explore a “product stewardship approach.” What, you ask? Take-back of leftover wipes? No, let’s not go there. Instead, they have agreed to discuss the challenges that the wastewater agencies face and to tighten the requirements spelled out in the current Guidance Document for Assessing the Flushability of Nonwoven Disposable Products (third edition). A fourth edition is currently in the works.

Here is an instance where the product stewardship dialogue actually addresses design standards! How do you set criteria for flushability such that the product truly breaks down in ways that are compatible with on-site and municipal wastewater systems? How do you ensure that these products are truly acceptable to flush, that they are “biological nutrients” in McDonough and Braungart’s Cradle-to-Cradle sense? How do you establish clear and meaningful labeling and marketing standards for what is flushable and what is not? Interesting questions indeed, and a dialogue sure to blaze new territory in the product stewardship universe.

This discourse illustrates an expanded definition of product stewardship, one that covers the full lifecycle, including design and labeling decisions that affect end-of-life disposition. Who knows – maybe Scott Cassel should be invited to the “World of Wipes” international conference to expand the idea of what it means to affect sustainable product stewardship.

“Hard to handle” takes on new meaning where upstream meets downstream.

Dave Galvin is a Program Manager for the Hazardous Waste Management Unit in King County (Seattle, Washington), part of the multi-agency “Local Hazardous Waste Management Program in King County.” This program addresses household and small business hazardous wastes in the Seattle metropolitan area. Dave began working in this subject area in 1979 and was the one who coined the term “household hazardous waste.” He was the founding president of the North American Hazardous Materials Management Association and was previously the president of the Product Stewardship Institute’s Board of Directors. For additional information, Dave can be reached at Dave.Galvin@kingcounty.gov.

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State E-Scrap Programs: A Living Laboratory

By Resa Dimino, Senior Advisor for Policy and Programs at the Product Stewardship Institute

escrapIn the first decade of this century, electronics recycling was a hot topic in the waste and recycling world. It was dubbed the fastest growing portion of the waste stream by US EPA, and its toxicity brought concerns from advocates for environmental health, among others. Horrifying videos surfaced about the conditions under which electronics were recycled in other countries, and news reports exposed the fact that materials generated in the US were getting recycled in difficult conditions, causing harm to workers and the environment in developing countries.

Extended producer responsibility (EPR) policy was offered as a policy solution to address all of these concerns. Assigning responsibility for recycling to the manufacturers of electronics would ensure that an infrastructure developed to handle this growing, and toxic, waste stream. It would also provide accountability for the way materials are handled – what IT or TV company wants to see its brand name featured in the next e-waste export expose? So, between 2003 and 2010, twenty-five states passed laws requiring e-scrap recycling, with twenty-three of those being EPR laws.

No two e-scrap EPR laws are exactly the same, but they do fall into a few categories. The first program, established in Maine, relies on local governments to collect electronics, and requires manufacturers to pay for any of their branded equipment that comes back through the system. Connecticut followed suit with a similar model years later. Oregon, Washington and Vermont offered variations on that theme by creating statewide programs (that typically operate through a contract with the state) that arrange for the recycling of all of the materials collected through what the state determines is a convenient collection system.

Meanwhile, a number of other states—led by Minnesota, but including Illinois, Indiana, New York, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Rhode Island – followed the “set the goal and let industry figure out how to get there” model of EPR. They each established performance goals and allocated responsibility to manufacturers to collect enough e-scrap to meet those goals. The trouble is, it’s hard to figure out where to set those goals to drive aggressive programs. On top of this, the costs of recycling have increased, so manufacturers are not enthusiastic about paying for more than they need to.

In an article recently published in E-Scrap News, PSI lays out the challenges some states are facing with e-scrap laws. As we address these challenges, we learn more about how to implement EPR in the US. We learn about critical issues, including: how much government involvement do we need to ensure a functional system? What policy mechanisms are needed to support an effective market-based recycling system? How should costs be allocated? What is the right balance between regulation and program flexibility?

The answers to these questions vary from state to state, but it is clear that the lessons we are learning now will serve us well as we seek to fix the struggling programs, and design new ones in the future.

Resa Dimino is a Senior Advisor for Policy and Programs at PSI. She works as a consultant with more than 20 years of experience in recycling policy, programs and business development. Prior to launching her consulting practice, Resa was the Director of Legislative Programs at WeRecycle!, an E-Stewards certified electronics recycler headquartered in Mt. Vernon, NY, and worked to develop collection networks in Northeast states that have electronics EPR legislation. For additional information, Resa can be reached at resa@productstewardship.us

Resa will be speaking about EPR and electronics on a panel at the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI) Convention on Friday, April 24, 2015. She will be presenting in the session titled, “Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) – Where is it going?”. 

Grand Opportunity in Extended Producer Responsibility

By John H. Skinner, Ph.D., Executive Director and CEO of SWANA
*This post has been republished from the SWANA newsletter, originally titled “Extended Producer Responsibility: An Opportunity, Not a Threat”. To join SWANA as a member and receive this newsletter, click here.

Extended producer responsibility (EPR) is based on the principle that producers of a product take responsibility for the end-of-life management of their products.1 In practice, this means that producers would be responsible for collecting and recycling their products and packaging once they have reached their end-of-life stage. In essence, producers would be obliged to organize the financing, organization and management of their product wastes, either by themselves or through the services of waste management companies or agencies.

One of the key goals of EPR is to provide financial incentives for producers to manufacture products and packaging that are easier to recycle. A number of products have been introduced to the marketplace, where recycling of the product is very difficult, costly and in some cases, virtually impossible, due to the choice of material and the product design. The history and current state of recycling is filled with examples. Holding the producer responsible for the recycling will create an incentive to make recyclability a key feature of product design.

EPR has had wide-scale application around the world. In Europe alone, 30 countries have established EPR as a fundamental part of their waste management system.2 Many of these programs already have driven packaging recycling levels above the quotas established set by the European Union for 2020. CalRecycle has reported on EPR programs in other parts of the world including Japan, Australia and New Zealand.3

In Canada, nine out of the ten Provinces have legislated EPR programs or requirements currently covering 94 product categories.4 The Canadian Council of Ministers reports that EPR will continue to play an important role in diverting waste from landfills and will help make Canada a world leader in waste diversion.

In the U.S., 33 states have EPR laws covering several special waste products such as computers, paints, batteries, tires and products containing mercury.5 In general, EPR has not been used in the U.S. to deal with the major components of the municipal solid waste stream such as packaging and printed materials. In contrast, five Canadian Provinces have EPR for packaging in place. In fact, there has been considerable opposition to applying EPR to these products in the U.S., not only by the producers themselves, but by some solid waste management companies and agencies. As Scott Cassel points out in the Resource Recycling article cited, this resistance continues in spite of data showing the much higher recycling rate in many European countries that have used EPR for packaging for more than 20 years.

The opposition to EPR for packaging and printed materials from the waste management industry in the U.S. stems in part from a concern that recycling programs established by producers would divert valuable, revenue-generating recyclables from existing local recycling programs. This is a legitimate concern. If higher value recyclables such as plastics, aluminum, paper and paper board were skimmed off by the producer established programs, a deleterious effect would occur for local programs. However, if producers worked through local programs to meet their EPR obligations, by providing financial resources and market support for recyclables, the economics of local programs actually could be enhanced. In fact, SWANA’s Product Stewardship Policy6 fully supports this relationship between producer supported recycling programs and local recycling programs:

“Manufacturers should…work with local governments to support, promote, improve and expand programs to collect, process and recycle products…

Implementation of product stewardship should not create new or duplicative programs that preempt existing programs run by or for local governments but should support or expand such programs in cooperation with and oversight by the local government…”

Let’s face it; the national recycling rate in the U.S. has stagnated at about 34 percent for nearly a decade. Waste management professionals should not look at EPR as a threat, but as an opportunity to bring additional resources to support and expand local efforts and drive recycling rates higher. Innovative and forward-thinking local recycling programs can develop a synergistic relationship with producer-supported EPR programs. This approach has been used in many successful EPR programs around the world.

On March 18 at SWANA’s Road to Zero Waste Conference in New Orleans, a special session titled EPR in the Real World: Lessons Learned explored the criteria for success of EPR through experiences of solid waste managers who have first-hand involvement with these programs. The presenters discussed how the lessons learned from these programs can develop useful insights for the successful application of EPR in North America and elsewhere in the world.

John Skinner is the CEO and Executive Director at the Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA). Prior to this position, John worked as a Senior Advisor at the United Nations Environment Programme. He also held a variety of positions at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from 1972-1992. You may find his full biography here. For additional information, John can be reached at jskinner@swana.org

 

You may find the original post in the SWANA newsletter here.


1 The Extended Producer Responsibility Alliance (EXPRA), Inspiring Packaging Recycling, Brussels, Belgium. EXPRA is a not-for-profit organization, set up in 2013 with the purpose of effectively promoting authentic application of EPR for packaging waste. Its members are producer companies in over 18 countries www.expra.eu.
2 The European Experience on EPR, Joachim Quoden, Managing Director Expira, to be presented at SWANA’s Road to Zero Waste Conference, New Orleans, LA, March 18, 2015.
3 http://www.calrecycle.ca.gov/epr/PolicyLaw/default.htm
4 Progress Report on the Canada-Wide Action Plan for Extended Producer Responsibility, Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment, 2014.
5 EPR’s Next Step, Scott Cassel, CEO Product Stewardship Institute, Resource Recycling, December 2014.
T2.1 SWANA Technical Policy: Product Stewardship, March 28, 2014

4 Reasons Why EPR is the Best Solution for Safe Drug Disposal

pharmaceutical take back programsPharmaceuticals are an essential component of our healthcare system. They save lives and improve quality of life for many of us. Yet, as the number of prescriptions written increases, so too do the problems related to unwanted pharmaceuticals in the home.

Allowing unwanted pharmaceuticals to accumulate in homes increases the likelihood of accidental overdose, illegal diversion, and environmental contamination. It’s time to commit to a solution that works.

The Take Back Solution
Take-back programs provide a safe way for people to remove unwanted medications from their homes.

Existing take-back programs vary widely as to how they are organized and funded. Many happen only a couple days each year. Some local law enforcement agencies have installed permanent drop boxes in their buildings. With the recent withdrawal of federal DEA support, many programs are struggling to find funding to continue this important public service.

A new federal rule for the disposal of unwanted controlled substances allows pharmacies to run their own take-back programs, a convenient option for consumers. However, the new DEA rule does not provide any funding to make participation easier.

Both law enforcement and pharmacy-based take-back programs are severely limited by a lack of consistent funding. While voluntary take-backs are a step in the right direction, these programs simply aren’t enough.

Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR), also known as product stewardship, describes a system where the life cycle costs of a product become part of the cost of manufacturing. EPR is a proven method to sustainably fund the recycling or disposal of fluorescent lights, mercury thermostats, paint, mattresses, household batteries, and other products.

Why, then, is EPR the best solution for pharmaceuticals?

1. Proven
EPR is already being successfully implemented for pharmaceuticals in many European countries as well as some Canadian Provinces. In British Columbia (BC), for instance, 97.5% of pharmacies participate in a drug take-back program due to a solid EPR foundation. These locations collected a total of 112,888 pounds of pharmaceuticals in one year alone, equaling out to 0.02 pounds of meds collected per person. For comparison, Oregon, a state with a similar population but without an EPR program, collected only 0.004 pounds of meds per person in one year, a rate five times lower than British Columbia’s.

2. Economical
A coordinated EPR approach lowers collection and disposal costs per pound. The pharmaceutical EPR program in France, for example, collects an average of 16,237 tons per year, at a cost of just $0.0022 per box. Funded entirely by pharmaceutical manufacturers and run by the non-profit group Cyclamed, this French program is highly effective in collecting unwanted pharmaceuticals. In a recent survey, 77% of French residents claimed to have disposed of unwanted medication via these take-back sites, while 70% said they “always” dispose of pharmaceuticals in this way.

3. Stable
Unlike the current patchwork of funding used by U.S. programs, an EPR program provides secure, long-term funding. The aforementioned program in British Columbia started their mandatory Medications Return Program in 1996 with a program revamp in 2004. The pharmaceutical industry, therefore, has been funding the entire cost of the program for over 19 years.

4. Ready to Go
Momentum is growing: Alameda County, CA; King County, WA; and San Francisco, CA have all adopted EPR laws. Despite having been willing EPR partners in other countries, pharmaceutical manufacturers have challenged the Alameda law in court. Considering the narrow grounds of the appeal and improvements made to subsequent iterations of the law, other communities will soon be passing pharmaceutical EPR laws.

Please consider promoting an EPR bill in your county or state. Each new EPR law brings us one step closer to a national program.

Ed Gottlieb is the Chair of the Coalition for Safe Medication Disposal in Tompkins County, NY. Ed can be contacted at egottlieb@cityofithaca.org. 

Reflections from the Summer Pool: An EPR Addict Tries to Stay Cool

pool 600pxOK, I am dreaming. It has been hot and steamy in Boston, and it was even hotter and steamier in Florida on my parental check-in visit last week. I am dying to jump into a giant cool pool. But instead, I find myself reflecting…on the year behind and the year ahead…over the EPR landscape in the U.S.

As an organization, PSI has hit its stride. As we approach our 15th year, we are moving from adolescence and the Constant Present to implementing our fourth long-range plan for the future. We have a solid new board of directors that includes a balance of geography (East, West, Midwest, South), politics (red, blue, and purple), and skill sets – all 100 percent committed to advancing product stewardship programs across the U.S.

We have an equally committed staff of 9 dynamic individuals, supported by over a dozen interns and consultants, who juggle multiple projects, fundraise, promote our accomplishments, and assist in passing and implementing product stewardship laws and programs on about 20 product categories!

PSI’s membership and partnership programs have steadily increased from 150 in fiscal year 2009 to over 400 today, representing an active, vibrant, and expansive product stewardship professional network of individuals from agencies, businesses, organizations, universities, and non-U.S. governments. PSI’s finances have also improved slowly but steadily over the past 14 years, and this past year was the first time we broke through the million dollar revenue mark. Our funding strategy has always been to diversify, and we have been successful in maintaining a balanced portfolio of memberships, partnerships, private and public consulting, foundation funding, and other revenue.

The EPR movement in the U.S. has also matured. There are now 82 EPR laws on 11 product categories, with at least one law in 33 states. Over the past six months, there have been many EPR “firsts”:

  • Vermont passed the nation’s first primary battery law.
  • Colorado passed its first product stewardship law (the eighth paint law in the nation).
  • Two major household battery industries representing single-use and rechargeable markets jointly developed draft legislation, preparing for the introduction of bills in several states in 2015.
  • There has been acknowledgment by carpet manufacturers that they have a responsibility nationally to fund the recycling of their post-consumer scrap carpet.
  • And, as our colleague Matt Prindiville of Upsteam pointed out on our recent Annual Membership/Partnership Conference Call, the consumer packaged goods companies have also acknowledged their responsibility to recycle their packaging.

Moreover, several additional EPR laws have a chance of passing by the end of the year.

PSI has had a hand in all of these developments, at times to a significant degree, and has been instrumental in fueling the movement. And by PSI, I mean the large coordinated network that makes us who we are today (believe it or not, we’re not just a bunch of capable staff in a hip office in Boston’s South End :) !). We, collectively with all of you, are able to experience this social change because we have built a strong coalition among government officials, businesspeople, environmental activists, academics, and the general public.

This change is inevitable. It makes sense. Manufacturers make stuff, so they should be responsible for managing that stuff. But we all benefit from that stuff, so we have roles too. Defining those roles and providing a vision for the End Game is what PSI does well. We know how to involve others, and we know that all stakeholders have important interests, unique technical information, and experience.

We have all done a good job at starting new EPR programs. We need to do a better job at recognizing that new programs will always need corrective action. Product stewardship programs are new in the U.S. and globally. We need to learn from our experiences and apply what we’ve learned to make our programs better.

Last, my trip to Japan in June to present a summary of the EPR programs in the U.S. to 130 global EPR experts at the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) was eye-opening, and a great privilege. I came away with an understanding that all of us—those in developed as well as developing nations—hold the pieces to a giant waste management puzzle. But we are not always connected. For example, while some in the U.S. want to ban the export of scrap electronics, government officials in India, China, and Malaysia want to build capacity through education and training to move the informal recycling sectors in their countries to healthy formal sectors – keeping desperately needed jobs. These are two pieces to the puzzle – our e-scrap and their recyclers – that so far have not been adequately connected.

I hope that you all get a chance to kick back a bit this summer, recharge, and reconnect to the people and things you love. Rest assured that, somewhere in our vast EPR network, there is the hum of activity, advancement, and accomplishment. This engine of product stewardship will never rest. But you should.

 

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