By: Susan Dadzie (PSI Business Manager)
Brendan Adamczyk is an Associate for Policy and Programs at the Product Stewardship Institute (PSI). He is a graduate of the University of Oregon with a major in Environmental Studies and minors in Geography and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. During his time at PSI, he has worked on a wide range of products, including packaging, paint, carpet, mattresses, and solar panels. In his free time, he enjoys reading and exploring Oregon’s many forests and waterways.
PSI’s Business Manager, Susan Dadzie, spoke with Brendan about his interest in environmental policy, how he wound up at PSI, and where he sees EPR going in the future.
(The interview below has been edited for length and clarity).
Which product area or areas are most interesting to you?
I would say I have two favorites: packaging and paint. I enjoy packaging because everyone handles it every day and so our work requires the engagement of a broader group of stakeholders and is fundamentally about rethinking the way we do recycling overall. And my love for paint stems from the fact that while local governments do not have the resources to recycle paint and many consumers do not know it can be recycled, there is already a well-established system – PaintCare – that can provide a solution. In working on both products, I get to touch on a wide array of the aspects of EPR.
When did your love of the environment first manifest? In other words, why environmental work?
Throughout my life, I have been very privileged to live near accessible green spaces and bodies of water and my family has always valued nature. When I moved to Vermont as a young child, I had ample opportunities to enjoy walks in the woods, see the seasons change, and swim in and boat on Lake Champlain. This in turn lead to a fierce desire to protect the environment, including asking all of my friends at my 8th birthday to donate to Save the Whales instead of giving me presents! Once I arrived in college, I began to shift my perspective as I recognized the social justice aspect of environmentalism and focused on helping people, not just protecting nature.
How did your experiences in college lead to your arrival at PSI?
Since high school, I have focused my academic and professional time on learning about and addressing climate change, coming to the understanding that you can approach the issue from many different angles: energy generation, product design, transportation, and more. Throughout college, I worked at my school’s Student Sustainability Center and helped run a student organization called the Climate Justice League, striving to make change on my campus and in my community.
When I first applied at PSI, I had not given much thought to the intersections of climate change, waste management, and recycling. All I knew was that recycling in the U.S. was broken and I assumed there wasn’t really a way to fix the problem. Imagine my surprise when I realized EPR offered a solution that the rest of the world had been using for years! The more I have learned about EPR, the more I think it would benefit the U.S. and the more I know I want to be part of the movement to bring it here.
What other product area would you love to see EPR more focused on that may not be getting the needed recognition?
One product I am excited to see rising interest in is solar panels, given that the increasing need and desire for renewable energy means we need to think through end-of-life management as soon as possible. Beyond solar panels, I have been thrilled to see new EPR legislation include equity and environmental justice consideration, such as the Break Free from Plastic Pollution Act’s pause on permitting for plastic production facilities and ban on the export of waste to non-OECD countries. I believe that focusing on social justice through the waste management system has the potential to generate a lot of positive change.
What is your role at PSI? What does an average day look like for you?
I love working at PSI because there are no typical days! In general, however, I help facilitate the Illinois and Missouri Product Stewardship Councils, work closely with our government members to refine paint policies, meet with legislators and our government members regarding legislation, support consulting projects on carpet, packaging, and solar panels, and assist in any other work as needed on a given day.
What are some of your proudest achievements in your time at PSI?
One of my favorite projects was PSI’s COVID-19 Impacts on U.S. Plastics Policies tracker, which we closed in March. It was powerful to see how much COVID affected policy, and it was a personal achievement to keep the tracker up to date for nearly a year. Another achievement has been working with PSI’s paint government strategy group, growing my own knowledge of paint EPR while making genuine progress in understanding our local government members’ perspectives on paint stewardship. Finally, I have enjoyed getting to work on advancing carpet EPR in Oregon and have learned a lot about how legislation is crafted and passed in my home state.
What motivates you to do this work? What about this work is challenging?
I am most motivated by the fact that I handle nearly all the products on which we work every day and so I can easily envision the effect that EPR can have on the end of their lifecycles. I see how EPR would manifest in my everyday life and the ways in which it would contribute to fighting climate change, which I consider to be an existential threat to humanity. The fact that I can contribute to this change by facilitating stakeholder conversations and drafting legislation never fails to get me out of the bed in the morning.
On the other hand, while it is crucial that we continue to engage all of the stakeholders touched by EPR, these conversations can be frustrating when solutions seem apparent to me but are unclear to others. But I know that this is because the changes proposed by EPR are broad and every stakeholder brings a different perspective to the table. It is only by continuing to reach out to people and working to update and evolve our policy models that we can change minds and achieve the future of waste management and recycling for which PSI strives.
What do you see as the future of EPR?
In the future, I hope to see EPR policies continue to incorporate equity elements across all products and even develop new components as the national conversation on social justice continues. I would also like to see EPR continue expanding to new product areas, such as solar panels, and to see eco-modulated fees included in EPR for products and packaging. Ultimately, I look forward to seeing how policy experts will learn from the mistakes of past programs to ensure we create better legislation in the future.
Where do you see yourself in the next, say, 3 or 5 years?
For as long as I can remember, I have always wanted to be an environmental lawyer, so I think I may end up in law school in a few years. If I don’t pursue a law degree, I would still like to stay in the world of environmental policy and pursue higher education in some capacity, so I may wind up in another graduate program. In the long-term, I would love to serve in public office to help influence key environmental decisions and hopefully improve my community.