In Response: “Opioid Poisonings Rise Sharply Among Toddlers and Teenagers”

The Product Stewardship Institute’s Scott Cassel and Vivian Fuhrman recently submitted the following letter to the editor to the New York Times in response to its November 4th article, Opioid Poisonings Rise Sharply Among Toddlers and Teenagers

Dear Editor:

840600_94918677_smlIn the October 31st article, “Opioid Poisonings Rise Sharply Among Toddlers and Teenagers,” you fail to mention drug take-back as the best option for families to rid their homes of the over 1 billion dollars in leftover drugs that sit in medicine cabinets and become a gateway to addiction, abuse, and accidental poisonings. Massachusetts, Vermont, and 14 counties or cities in California, Illinois, and Washington passed laws that make pharmaceutical companies responsible for financing and/or managing jurisdiction-wide drug take-back programs designed to provide residents with convenient, safe drop-off locations at pharmacies, hospitals, and law enforcement agencies. Many countries in Canada and Europe also have laws that require industry to manage the proper disposal of the medications they put into the marketplace. Unfortunately, U.S. pharmaceutical companies continue to promote garbage disposal and refuse to take responsibility for safe drug disposal. It’s time for the American pharmaceutical industry to be held accountable for the massive quantities of leftover medicines that contribute to the opioid epidemic, which has torn apart families and imposed unacceptable health costs on society.

Sincerely,

Scott Cassel, CEO/Founder
Vivian Fuhrman, Ph.D., Associate for Policy and Programs

In Response: “Yellow, Fuzzy, and Flat: Where Do Recycled Tennis Balls Go?”

tennis-ballIn a recent New York Times article, entitled Yellow, Fuzzy, and Flat: Where Do Recycled Tennis Balls Go?, Ben and Scott Soloway show that it is possible to recycle tennis balls. Unfortunately, thousands of products like tennis balls get trashed every day because it costs more to collect, transport, and recycle them than it does to throw them away.

But when you really parse out the true costs of trashing – the social, health, and environmental impacts – recycling is, at its face, often less expensive. The energy needed to manufacture new tennis balls, for instance, contributes to greenhouse gas emissions – exacerbating climate change, which ultimately requires billions more dollars for mitigation projects. In addition, taxpayers and governments pick up the cost to dispose of products on behalf of the companies that profit from their manufacture and sale. The only way to ensure that manufacturers prioritize recycling is if they incorporate the true cost of post-consumer management into the purchase price of their products.

Tennis ball recycling, like the recycling of other goods, is admirable, but is often not sustainable unless all manufacturers recycle their products. Although there are many admirable voluntary efforts, industry leaders would be at a competitive disadvantage if they chose to voluntarily incorporate the true cost of managing their products into their business models when their competitors do not. Legislation can level the playing field across all product areas – from mattresses to tennis balls – so that all companies incur similar costs (and reap similar benefits), save valuable resources and taxpayer money, alleviate the burden on local governments, and create recycling jobs.

Interested in pursuing legislation that levels the playing field and creates sustainable reuse and recycling to return materials to the circular economy? Contact Scott Cassel at (617) 236-4822.

Why PSI Opposes State Bans on Local Bans

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

The Product Stewardship Institute recently passed a policy statement opposing state legislation that preempts local government action to regulate products and packaging. The policy is intended to help defend local government rights to take action to protect the environment. Here’s why we did it.

ban on plastic bansTraditionally, recycling and solid waste management in the U.S. are considered local government responsibilities. Since local governments are responsible for managing waste, they should also have the authority to implement policies that support their local priorities.

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a conservative think tank with close to 300 corporations and private foundation members, as well as hundreds of state officials, thinks otherwise. ALEC is pushing legislation in states around the U.S. to restrict local governments from banning “auxiliary containers,” including plastic bags, bottles, cups, and polystyrene to-go boxes – bans that would directly cut into manufacturers’ profits, but also reduce external costs on governments, recycling facilities, and the environment. So far, ALEC’s model legislation, or derivations of it, has passed in Arizona, Wisconsin, Indiana, Idaho, and Missouri and has been introduced in another three states (TX, MI, and GA).

ALEC and its members see local bans as unnecessary restrictions on the free market and consumer choice, but local governments have focused on plastic bags and polystyrene for good reason. These products are often used in take-out food service settings and are disposed outside of the home. The materials are lightweight and easily transported by air or water, adding to the global marine pollution crisis. Plastic bags and polystyrene are recyclable, but neither can be collected at the curb with bottles and cans. Plastic bags are typically considered contaminants in material recovery facilities because they get caught in sorting machinery, costing time and money. All in all, these products wreak economic and environmental havoc the moment they leave a retail establishment.

PSI strongly advocates for the right of local governments to enact laws and rules that ensure efficient and environmentally sound materials management. Even so, there are instances in which a well-conceived statewide program is preferable to multiple local regulations. But that trade off – giving up local authority in exchange for statewide action – should not be taken lightly and should be a decision left to local governments. Local autonomy should only be sacrificed for good reason and with proper cause.

In the case of the ALEC bill and its derivatives, local governments are not being asked to forgo bans in favor of a statewide policy or program to resolve issues with these materials. They’re simply being told they can’t take action to reduce the waste they are obligated to manage and pay for. Policy tools are being stripped from the local government tool box, yet the responsibility on local governments is not relieved. As a result, the manufacturers of these problem products can continue to sell single use items, and local governments have no choice but to foot the bill to manage them as waste and litter.

If producers want to avoid bans, they should step up and offer viable solutions for managing these products, or at least commit to working with governments to find them – at either the state or local level. Restricting governments’ ability to act, while offering no viable alternative, only ensures that these products and packaging will yield profits, while our local economies and environment pay the price.

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Initiating the Conversation on Packaging EPR in the U.S. – the Levers for Change

As experts articulate the successes of their respective extended producer responsibility (EPR) packaging programs, it can start to sound like a “blend of science fiction, fantasy, and… a little magical realism” to some U.S. state and local government officials. What levers for change will compel stakeholders to pursue EPR for packaging in the United States?

Victor Bell (Environmental Packaging International) and Allen Langdon (Multi-Material British Columbia) point to the increasing costs local governments are facing within the current U.S. “blue box” system. As commodities markets continue to decline, recyclers are continually losing the revenue they once achieved from selling valuable recovered materials. On top of this, because oil prices are so low, it is cheaper to make plastics from virgin resources than from recovered resources – further decreasing the recycling revenue stream. Recyclers therefore need to cover their costs by increasing the service rates they charge local governments.

As these economic shifts become more pronounced, “the only way to deal with them,” says Langdon, “will be to put a new system in place to address those challenges.” British Columbia transitioned to an EPR system for packaging and printed paper in 2014 after experiencing similar economic shifts.

This 5-part video series kicks off a comprehensive set of resources PSI is developing on EPR for packaging. Keep on the lookout for webinars, fact sheets, videos, and more in 2016. 

Looking for more? Watch the first three videos in our series. You can also sign up for PSI’s upcoming webinar, “Examples of Change: Packaging EPR in Europe and Canada.”

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Local Governments are Key to Packaging EPR in the U.S.

As we come to further understand packaging extended producer responsibility (EPR) programs worldwide – including those in Europe and Canada – it can be difficult to picture how the United States could alter its materials management system so drastically. While many stakeholders see the benefits of packaging EPR, including saving governments money, increasing efficiency, and improving recycling rates, the process of passing such a law can feel daunting. How can we gather enough support to introduce, let alone pass, such legislation?

According to Victor Bell from Environmental Packaging International, the best way to guarantee success in potentially passing an EPR bill for packaging at the state level is to drum up unified support at the city and county level. When local governments and the environmental community form a united front, the pressure will drive legislators to act.

While Allen Langdon from Multi-Material British Columbia acknowledges that the U.S. system of checks and balances can be difficult to navigate when trying to pass legislation, he’s also optimistic. “Now that [packaging EPR] is in North America,” he says, “it should be a game changer. The fact that EPR is working in North America … should send a signal that this is possible, and it gives you… an example or a model to work from.” British Columbia transitioned to an EPR program for packaging and printed paper in 2014; its previous system was very similar to the current U.S. system.

Interested in drumming up local support for a packaging EPR bill? Contact Waneta Trabert at (617) 236-4866.

This 5-part video series kicks off a comprehensive set of resources PSI is developing on EPR for packaging. Keep on the lookout for webinars, fact sheets, videos, and more in spring/summer 2016. 

Looking for more? Watch the first video in the series, featuring Steve Claus from FostPlus in Belgium, and the second video, featuring Allen Langdon from Multi-Material British Columbia. You can also sign up for for PSI’s upcoming webinar, “Examples of Change: Packaging EPR in Europe and Canada.”

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Why is EPR for packaging such a hot topic right now?

Allen Langdon is the Managing Director of Multi-Material British Columbia, the stewardship organization in charge of managing British Columbia’s packaging extended producer responsibility (EPR) program – a program that boasts an 80% recovery rate. In this video, Allen explains why EPR laws for packaging are emerging in countries all over the world, Canadian provinces included.

With numerous challenges facing the current recycling system in the U.S., EPR makes economic sense. In fact, the U.S. is the only Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) member nation that does not have EPR in place or in development. At the same time, there is global momentum for industries to focus on building a circular economy.

There are currently 92 EPR laws in the U.S. in 33 states on 12 different product categories – none of which pertain to packaging. EPR bills have been introduced this year for packaging and printed paper in Rhode Island and Indiana, as well as in Illinois (specifically for plastic bags). PSI is working to educate state and local governments on the benefits of EPR for packaging in the U.S. by communicating international successes and experiences.

As Allen states, packaging EPR truly is the “next step in the circular economy,” and can positively influence a product’s entire value chain from design to end-of-life.

This 5-part video series kicks off a comprehensive set of resources PSI is developing on EPR for packaging. Keep on the lookout for webinars, fact sheets, videos, and more in spring/summer 2016. 

Looking for more? Watch the first video in the series, featuring Steve Claus from FostPlus in Belgium, and sign up for our upcoming webinar, “Examples of Change: Packaging EPR in Europe and Canada.” 

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Is the time right for packaging EPR in the U.S.?

Last December, the Product Stewardship Institute (PSI) hosted the 2015 U.S. Product Stewardship Forum, where environmental experts from around the world discussed issues regarding zero waste, extended producer responsibility (EPR), product stewardship, and the circular economy.

One particularly engaging session – “Exploring Packaging EPR in the U.S.” – featured global experts involved in successful packaging EPR programs in Belgium, British Columbia, and Quebec, and inspired attendees to rethink current U.S. packaging programs.

Packaging EPR laws require producers to cover the cost of recycling packaging when consumers are done with it. These systems increase recycling rates by providing consistent, statewide programs that accept the same materials in all cities and towns, and promulgate the same educational messages. These programs can also incentivize producers to incorporate environmentally-preferable materials into their packaging and reduce the amount of packaging they use. In contrast to the U.S., packaging EPR laws are in place in 34 European nations; 11 countries in Asia, South America, and Africa; Australia; and 5 Canadian provinces. This puts the U.S. at a competitive disadvantage to other countries that require brand owners to properly manage the packaging they produce.

In the first part of PSI’s 5-part video series, Steve Claus from Fost Plus in Belgium – whose packaging recovery program boasts an 80% recovery rate – describes why the time is right to implement an EPR system in the U.S.

This video series kicks off a comprehensive set of resources PSI is developing on EPR for packaging. Keep on the lookout for webinars, fact sheets, videos, and more in spring-summer 2016. 

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Senator John F. Keenan: Comments on “My Old Meds” Campaign

By Senator John F. Keenan, Massachusetts Senate

On March 16, 2016, Governor Charlie Baker signed into law a comprehensive drug abuse prevention bill that made Massachusetts the first state in the nation to require drug companies to fund and manage a safe disposal program for unwanted medications. Massachusetts Senator John F. Keenan was the first to introduce the drug take-back portion of this bill to the MA legislature, and acted as an influential proponent of its inclusion in the final law. Below, Senator Keenan cautions us to stay vigilant to PhRMA’s attempts to skirt the law’s intended purpose.

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You would think that a group that helped create the opioid epidemic, which certainly has profited from it, and which is acknowledging that its products continue to fuel the epidemic, would offer more to help solve the epidemic than a catchy phrase, a website and a complete abrogation of playing any role in cleaning up the mess.

Yet, that’s what a newly formed group called “My Old Meds” has done. The sponsor of this group is the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), made up of representatives of the pharmaceutical industry. Some of these people and the firms they represent are making a lot of money from the sale of prescription painkillers, firms like Purdue Pharma, the people who brought us OxyContin and, more recently, OxyContin for kids.

“My Old Meds” recently brought their message to Massachusetts, advising that unused drugs are often diverted and become fuel for the opioid epidemic, and that old meds should therefore be disposed of at home in the trash or at government sponsored drug disposal sites.

In so advising, the sponsors of “My Old Meds” attempted to wash their hands of any responsibility for the disposal of unused medications, and place it instead on the patient and the taxpayer. Their theory: sell more pills than people need, reap the profits, then make others pay for the cleanup.

Their message was strategically timed, just as Massachusetts was considering legislation to require that pharmaceutical companies themselves become responsible for funding and operating a take-back and disposal program for unused pills. The industry was very comfortable with the arrangement of the past, watching their balance sheets grow in step with the excessive number of pills sold while communities scrambled to address the resulting opioid epidemic. That’s why they introduced their catchy phrase and website. They wanted to appear to be helpful, to convince us that no real change was necessary.

The Massachusetts Legislature was not fooled. We can be proud now of becoming the first state in the nation to require a pharmaceutical product stewardship program.

But now we must expect PhRMA’s campaign for in-home, patient and community funded disposal to continue. They will “educate” the public that they can spend their own money to buy cat litter or other carbon products that make pills “safe” for disposal, or that pills can simply be flushed into our water systems.

We must be vigilant. The new law allows the Massachusetts Department of Public Health to design an alternative stewardship plan, in which manufacturers will be allowed to participate rather than fund and operate their own programs. We must work to prevent the industry from influencing the regulatory process. We cannot let them seek regulations that set a low bar for industry responsibility, and that maximize the share of responsibility falling back onto public systems. We must work to ensure that the Department’s program is robust and effective, not a back door that lets manufacturers again step away from responsibility for safe stewardship of unused medications.

We have taken an important first step, but we must continue to fend off the message that manufacturer responsibility can be satisfied with a slogan and website.

Senator Keenan wrote a follow-up piece related to National Take-Back Day on MassLive. Learn more about Senator Keenan by visiting his website. Please feel free to contact Vivian Futran Fuhrman, PSI’s pharmaceuticals lead, with comments and questions (617-236-4771), or visit the PSI pharmaceuticals webpage for more information. 

What’s Trending in Product Stewardship? An Interview with Scott Cassel

Adapted from a Waste360 interview with Scott Cassel
Originally published on January 20, 2016 by Allan Gerlat, Editor, Waste360

Waste360: At the PSI forum, pharmaceutical take-back efforts were a big topic. What’s happening there?

HeapOfColorfulPillsScott Cassel: We’ve been working on the pharmaceuticals issue for about 10 years. One thing has stayed the same: the industry is still not keen on collecting leftover medications. But a new trend has gathered steam. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the Alameda County (California) case in May 2015, leaving in place an ordinance requiring the pharmaceutical industry to set up and pay for take-backs. That’s a fundamental game changer. Alameda County—and any other U.S. jurisdiction—can require the pharmaceutical industry to set up and pay for pharmaceutical take-back programs. This was a key signal to local and state government agencies around the country. We’re seeing more interest now.

And there are interests here well beyond the environmental. There’s been an increase in drug abuse—in fatalities and addiction. Federal agencies, most state agencies, and the public health community recognize that getting old medications out of the home and safely disposed of is a key drug abuse prevention strategy. That requires funding. And as we know, the best way to fund this is through producer responsibility programs.

We’ve seen more pharmaceutical take-back programs funded by government agencies—and in some cases, by retailers. But the trend now is toward a fundamental change: including the cost of the take-back in the medication purchase price. That will be the paradigm shift.

Waste360: Producer responsibility for packaging has made progress in Canada and Belgium, for example. What are the challenges in the U.S.?

iStock_000008997155XSmallScott Cassel: Like with pharmaceuticals, the brand owners have not been keen on collecting and paying for recycling the packaging they put in the marketplace. They have opposed EPR (extended producer responsibility) legislation; they have even thwarted efforts to have a reasoned discussion. I think that there’s more interest now from company leaders to have that discussion.

PSI has been working on packaging stewardship for the past 10 years, and for the first time at the conference I heard voices from stewardship organizations implementing EPR for packaging in Europe, Canada, and other countries, encouraging similar systems for the U.S. U.S. companies sell in a global marketplace. Other countries are now speaking out, providing the results of their programs, which are much more impressive than in the U.S.

The recycling markets are down, so as local governments renew and renegotiate their recycling contracts, they face higher costs. As a result, governments will put greater pressure on manufacturers to move toward different recycling systems that will alleviate that cost burden. That, in turn—as we see in other countries—will influence packaging design to be much more sustainable.

I foresee, over the next year, what I hope will be a productive, healthy discussion among all stakeholders. I hope a few leaders among the U.S. recycling/waste management community, and among U.S. brand owners, will engage in discussions to really understand global packaging EPR systems, express their concerns about such systems in the U.S., and honestly engage on how to move toward more sustainable packaging solutions here.

We’re at a competitive disadvantage here because we’re the only OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) country without packaging EPR. Other OECD country programs are funded through EPR schemes, which all provide investment in the recycling system. That’s what is needed in the U.S.

Two initiatives emerged over the past year, the Closed Loop Fund and the Recycling Partnership – both voluntary. They received a lot of criticism at PSI’s recent national conference (not from us, but from brand owners and stewardship organizations operating in other countries) that those efforts were too little, too weak. It’s a step forward that companies have joined in voluntary stewardship efforts. They came in response to encouragement and pressure from groups like ours, and others in this political sphere.

Waste360: What other trends and challenges in product stewardship do you see on the near horizon?

9D482CE663Scott Cassel: Pharmaceuticals, packaging, and household hazardous waste are still in the early stages. But electronics was one of the first products we focused on at our inaugural conference in 2000. Over 20 states came and electronics was their number one issue. We now have 26 U.S. electronics laws; 24 are EPR laws.

PSI is now analyzing state electronics legislation and coming up with best practices, including key elements of laws that perform best, and models we’re sharing with those 20-odd states that don’t have laws, or have very weak laws. We know what those programs need, and are working to fix and adjust them. We also understand the scrap recycling markets have changed. It’s a difficult time for electronics across the U.S. The CRT (cathode ray tube) markets have driven costs higher for local governments and recyclers, and the markets for all electronics have been depressed. We’re spending quite a lot of time on this, at the request of our state and local government members and our recycling partners. There’s still reluctance among the electronics manufacturers to engage as a group, but we’re seeing that there are individuals from certain companies that we can work with, and we hope to build on that.

Waste360: Discuss the connection between climate change and recycling, and how producer responsibility fits in.

Staples' Mark Buckley delivers the opening keynote presentation on the circular economy at the 2015 U.S. Product Stewardship Forum.

Staples’ Mark Buckley delivers the opening keynote presentation on the circular economy at the 2015 U.S. Product Stewardship Forum.

Scott Cassel: Product stewardship and EPR are core elements to protect and conserve resources. We’re depleting our natural resources at an exceedingly high rate. The mining, manufacturing, use, and disposal—end-of-life management—of products contributes, according to the EPA, 29% of greenhouse gas emissions. So product management and materials management can significantly reduce impacts on climate change.

Our work ties into the need to be more sustainable and the emerging concept of the circular economy. We need to pay close attention to the upstream impact of consumption, which starts when a company conceives of a product and extends to the end after a consumer is done using it—an entire lifecycle, from cradle to cradle. We believe the company is responsible for managing that product throughout. We want that material returned back into commerce—the concept of the ‘circular economy.’ There is money to be made from these materials. So while we’re reducing resource depletion, we’re also creating value. That’s a significant trend I see: that our work in product stewardship and EPR will be understood as part of something much greater.

Learn more about PSI’s work by visiting our website. Please feel free to contact Scott Cassel, PSI’s CEO and founder, with any questions at (617) 236-4822. 

Putting the “Green” in Walgreens

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

pharmaceutical-take-backThis week an announcement rocked the pharmaceutical take-back community. Walgreens will set up collection kiosks at 500 stores in 39 states to accept controlled and non-controlled prescription drugs.

In one instant, a decade of advocacy work was rewarded as a principal player stepped forward to help alleviate drug abuse and accidental poisonings in America. In this one move, Walgreens validated those of us who have long promoted take-back as the safest way to manage leftover drugs and remove a health risk from our homes.

It was a long road to this point. It all started for a reason we should not forget – concern over how pharmaceuticals impact water quality and aquatic organisms. The U.S. Geological Survey brought our attention to this issue in 2002 by reporting the prevalence of pharmaceutical compounds in waterways. Studies and photos of aquatic impacts – male fish with female characteristics, infertility in aquatic species, and related environmental concerns – incited our interest in finding a solution.

But it quickly became clear that the nation’s drug abuse issue would drive a solution. When King Pharmaceuticals, an opioid manufacturer, funded PSI’s pharmaceuticals take-back website, along with one of our 2008 national dialogue meetings, we knew we were on the right track. At that meeting, we reached stakeholder consensus: the federal Controlled Substances Act needed to be changed. This law limited the collection of controlled substances to locations where law enforcement staff were present – a costly, impractical, and inconvenient constraint.

In order to change the law, we needed to reach a strong agreement among government agencies, reverse distributors, and other stakeholders on two specific points: how we defined the problem and what specific language we recommended to change the law. We met with the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the Department of Transportation, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the Food and Drug Administration to solidify a unified message, and wrote testimony that synthesized concerns and recommendations. In 2010, the Secure and Responsible Drug Disposal Act was enacted.

But that was only the first step. From there, PSI held multiple stakeholder calls and meetings to provide input into implementing the DEA regulations that would eventually put the new law into action. When DEA finally released its final rule in late 2014, some stakeholders remained skeptical. They questioned whether the rule went far enough, if it created unintended loopholes, and why pharmacies didn’t jump in to start collecting soon after the rule was announced. PSI, therefore, set out to find pioneering pharmacists who were collecting controlled substances under the new rule, like Monty Scheele of Four Star Drug in Nebraska, who enthusiastically explained on one of our national webinars how easy it is to collect old drugs and how beneficial it is for business.

Obviously, Walgreens was listening to pharmacists like Monty Scheele. They responded to the drum beat of requests from an ever-expanding group of take-back advocates, as well as ONDCP and DEA, who made it clear that pharmacy collection was a main goal all along when they changed the regulations.

A decade ago, King County, Washington started an epic pilot program for non-controlled substances at Bartell Drugs, a pharmacy in Seattle. Dave Galvin, one of the County’s pilot program leaders, always said: “Most people don’t go to their police station voluntarily, but they do go to the neighborhood pharmacy.”

It’s been a long journey, one that took perseverance and hope. But simple truths are hard to keep submerged. Customers are neighbors, and they will stay loyal to your pharmacy if you help alleviate a pressing community problem.

It was only a matter of time until a major initiative like this one was bound to occur. A decade isn’t so long, after all.

Learn more about PSI’s work on pharmaceuticals by visiting our website. Please feel free to contact Vivian Futran Fuhrman, PSI’s pharmaceuticals lead, with comments and questions (617-236-4771).