In Response: Cleanup from California Fires Poses Environmental and Health Risks

The Product Stewardship Institute’s Scott Cassel recently submitted the following letter to the editor to the New York Times in response to its October 16th article, Cleanup from California Fires Poses Environmental and Health Risks

Dear Editor:

The toxic ash remaining from the California wild fires should be a wake-up call not only regarding climate change but also toxic products. The manufacture of household and building products that contain hazardous materials will now result in added health costs to residents salvaging items from their devastated homes and to workers assisting in the clean-up effort. There will also be added health risks and costs to dispose of the toxic ash. Unfortunately, those paying these costs will not be the companies who profit from their manufacture, but taxpayers and governments. We need to account for these added costs imposed by the toxic products we buy to clean and maintain our homes. These products should cost more to buy compared to safer products that do not impact the environment. It is time to stop allowing manufacturers of toxic products to unload the true costs of making, using, and disposing of their products on taxpayers and governments that clean up their mess and subsidize their profits.

Sincerely,

Scott Cassel
Chief Executive Officer + Founder
Product Stewardship Institute, Inc.

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In Response: The Drug Industry’s Triumph Over the DEA

The Product Stewardship Institute’s Scott Cassel recently submitted the following letter to the editor to the Washington Post in response to its October 15th article, The Drug Industry’s Triumph over the DEA

Dear Editor:

The October 15th investigations article, “The Drug Industry’s Triumph over the DEA,” highlights the power of the pharmaceutical industry to avoid taking responsibility for their role in the opioid epidemic, which has torn apart families and imposed unacceptable health costs on society. One billion dollars worth of leftover drugs sits in U.S. medicine cabinets and has become a gateway to addiction, abuse, and accidental poisonings.

It’s time for the U.S. pharmaceutical industry to be held accountable for the massive quantities of medicine it puts on the market. Massachusetts, Vermont, and 18 counties or cities in California, Illinois, New York, and Washington have passed laws that require pharmaceutical companies to finance and/or manage jurisdiction-wide drug take-back programs designed to provide residents with safe and convenient medication drop-off locations at pharmacies, hospitals, and law enforcement offices.

We urge the Council of the District of Columbia to amend the Safe Disposal of Pharmaceuticals Amendment Act of 2017 (B22-0228) to require the industry to take back unwanted medicine and help alleviate the raging opioid epidemic.

Sincerely,

Scott Cassel
Chief Executive Officer/Founder
Product Stewardship Institute

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Help reduce paper use with one click

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Unwanted phone books are not only a nuisance, but also a waste: the industry uses about 14 football fields’ worth of forest per day. They are also a burden on governments and taxpayers, who pay nearly $60 million annually to get rid of phone books.

It’s time to stop phone book delivery at the source.

Share our video with your networks to encourage others to opt out, and visit www.bit.ly/YP-opt-out to stop phone book delivery.

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Eateries in Greenport, New York Reduce Plastic Marine Debris: A Story of Multi-Stakeholder Collaboration

by Megan Byers

Greenport, NY is a charming seaside village on the North Fork of Long Island.

A few weeks ago, my colleague Vivian Fuhrman and I traveled to the North Fork of Long Island to kick off the Product Stewardship Institute (PSI)’s Trash Free Waters project, a voluntary plastics source reduction initiative funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Region 2 and administered by the New England Interstate Water Pollution Control Commission. Through this initiative, PSI is partnering with four local eateries in Greenport, New York – Alices’ Fish Market, Bruce & Son, Lucharitos, and Tikal.1 – to help them voluntarily decrease the disposable plastic items (cups, straws, take-out containers, etc.) that end up on Long Island’s beaches.

When we arrived in the North Fork, gratitude and support for the project appeared from some unexpected sources.

Vivian and I first presented the project to the Southold Town Board – an opportunity made possible thanks to Southold’s Solid Waste Coordinator, Jim Bunchuck. Our goal was to lay the groundwork for developing a model municipal plan to reduce marine debris on a community level. During the discussion, the Board offered a creative idea: they suggested we create a “Trash Free Waters” emblem that the businesses can display in their windows or on their menus to market their marine debris reduction efforts.

Later that day, we met the participating businesses in the Greenport School for our kickoff meeting.  Thanks to the meeting location, teachers Stephanie Pawlik and Brady Wilkins were able to join us and eagerly volunteered to have their students design the “Trash Free Waters” emblem as part of an environmental unit in class. A local artist, Cindy Roe, later contacted PSI and offered to advise the students and judge the submissions. We are now finalizing a plan for the emblem and connecting these volunteers.

Within the following week , at least three local news sources (SoutholdLOCAL, Suffolk Times, and North Fork Patch) published articles about the project. Thanks to this press, the project received many positive comments on social media – in fact, several individuals even suggested their own ideas for reducing plastic pollution!

This sort of community collaboration is a key aspect of protecting our planet. The support we are finding in Greenport is a reminder that, no matter who you are, everyone has their own unique ability to stand up to protect our waterways.

Regardless of the product focus, multi-stakeholder collaboration is a key tenet of PSI’s approach to product stewardship and has been critical to our success. For instance, to address economic and environmental problems caused by leftover paint, PSI facilitated a national group of state and local governments, paint industry representatives, retailers, recyclers, non-profits, and others. After years of research and discussion, that national group created a model paint stewardship bill that now serves as the basis for nine paint stewardship laws passed in the U.S., resulting in 16 million gallons of paint being diverted from disposal, saving governments and taxpayers over $69 million, and creating over 200 jobs.

Marine debris is a visible problem in coastal communities like Greenport, and now a wide variety of stakeholders are ready to address it. PSI knows that this fortuitous synergy from multiple stakeholder groups will boost the participating eateries’ visibility, value, and connection to the community, and that their voluntary plastics reduction effort may serve as a starting point for community-wide action to reduce marine debris.

As a complement to PSI’s Marine Debris Reduction Toolkit for Colleges & Universities, PSI’s work with the Greenport eateries will culminate in a Marine Debris Reduction Toolkit for Eateries that will help businesses and municipalities across the country reduce their contribution to marine debris.

Megan Byers is the newest addition to the Product Stewardship Institute (PSI) team. She focuses on packaging, tracking legislation, and communications work at PSI, and coordinates several state product stewardship councils. She’s one of the key staff leading PSI’s Trash Free Waters project.

 

Seeking Leaders in 2017

Dear Product Stewardship Institute (PSI) Members, Partners, and Colleagues:

I want to wish you all a Happy New Year!

As we step into 2017, those of us working on environmental issues have a big challenge ahead. How can we work together to reduce material consumption and, to quote Professor Bob Giegengack, “move toward a less unsustainable society”?

We founded PSI in 2000 to represent state and local government views about product stewardship, and we received formal letters signed by chief environmental executives from 47 states pledging to work with PSI to encourage manufacturers to take responsibility for reducing the health and environmental impacts of their products. We have always worked for all state and local governments – those seeking regulatory changes, as well as those advancing voluntary initiatives. In our eyes, protecting the environment is a non-partisan issue.

PSI actively pursues these goals. In fact, our mediation led to the nation’s first national product stewardship agreement with the paint industry, which resulted in an innovative system that has created over 200 jobs, saved over $69 million for governments, and recycled 16 million gallons of paint. To develop that agreement, the American Coatings Association, state and local governments, the U.S. EPA, retailers, and recyclers took a chance on a process that they could not fully control but that they could influence with their own ideas and interests. These leaders could have stepped away from that agreement at any time, but they did not. And they are all reaping the benefits.

We need more leaders like this. We cannot afford to keep wasting resources.

We need government leaders who will break from the bureaucratic status quo and innovate. We need manufacturing executives who will take risks that lead to greater competitive advantage and industry-wide change. We need recyclers who can artfully balance their operations in the realm of regulation with their allegiance to manufacturers who give them significant business. And we need retailers who can embrace a new role to collect consumer products and turn them back into the circular economy.

PSI is ready to work with those of you who are willing to take a leadership role. You are needed. And now is the time.

May we all be blessed with a healthy and productive 2017.

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Scott Cassel
Chief Executive Officer + Founder
Product Stewardship Institute

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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