Extended Producer Responsibility – The Gateway to Discomfort and The Path to Progress

I like being comfortable. Every Saturday, I rest. I make myself as comfortable as I can be. On the other days of the week, I make others uncomfortable. Not on purpose. But I suppose it’s the nature of our business…the EPR business. I think of ways to change how waste is managed in our country. And that can make people nervous and downright uncomfortable. The truth is that I am tired of disposing of my own garbage and watching other people’s garbage get tossed out. There are people starving around the world and using scraps to build their houses, and we in the U.S. are still throwing out tons of usable materials. This is a situation no one should be comfortable with. So I want to agitate. I want to change it. Many of you do too. But without holding someone responsible, who is also capable of creating lasting positive change, it will not happen. And that is where EPR comes in.

For years, government was given the responsibility to take care of its citizens. And it embraced that responsibility. Employees cleaned the streets from horse excrement, paved roads, and met the needs of citizens. Along the way, they also started to carry the burden of companies, which made more and more products that were shipped to the store or to the door, and that was the end of their corporate responsibility…unless someone got hurt directly from negligence on their part in the way the product was made or operated.

But now we know that products harm not only directly but indirectly. There are impacts all along a product’s lifecycle. Mining causes worker injuries, pollution, and blighted landscapes. Manufacture, transportation, use, recycling, and disposal all cause impacts. And the entity that can best change those impacts is the manufacturer that makes those products. Unfortunately, they are all too comfortable with how things are right now. After all, it’s tough in business. To survive is not easy. The successful companies have been able to maneuver through a host of obstacles. And who wants to have to engage in yet another challenge, which is what EPR represents? EPR is just one more obstacle to business survival, and one best avoided.

Those of us in the EPR business have gotten accustomed to making people feel uncomfortable. The first presentation I gave to paint industry representatives on paint recycling, well before PSI was created, was met with disdain. After my dinner-time presentation, a guy from California Paints stood up and literally mixed a bunch of liquids together into a can. He wanted to demonstrate how paint recycling was destined for contamination…how it could never be done right, how toxics would inevitably get mixed with good paint and create a hazardous waste of uncontrollable proportions. He sure showed me…15 years later, the recycled paint manufacturing industry is as strong as ever, and poised for exponential growth.

EPR advocates have learned to expect opposition. We are used to the push back. It is our job to make others uncomfortable and to rethink what they have always been doing for years. When my 21-year old daughter does this to me, I thank her for making me think…really think…about what I am doing and why.

It is time for manufacturers to really think about what they are doing and how EPR can help increase the supply of recycled materials, create jobs, and reduce pollution at reasonable cost. It is our responsibility as advocates to show how EPR can result in those benefits. But ultimately it will take those who are comfortable to become uncomfortable before those benefits are realized.

There is the old saying…no pain, no gain. You exercise and you feel better. It is time to start training for the EPR changes that are round the bend.

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