An Award in the Present Triggers a Reflection on the Past

Yesterday, in Boston’s historic Faneuil Hall, I listened to a stirring rendition of the Star Spangled Banner by a high school student whose golden voice inspired angels to dance among the majestic white columns that lined The Great Hall.

I was invited to Faneuil Hall to accept an Environmental Merit Award that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency bestowed on the Product Stewardship Institute. I was honored to accept that award on behalf of PSI’s staff, members, and partners. And I was proud of our partner, the Northeast Recycling Council, which received an impressive Lifetime Achievement Award.

At the ceremony, I was inspired to hear of the achievements of individuals and organizations in the region, and it gave me time to reflect on what PSI does best, and the challenges we face. What those of us in the product stewardship movement are trying to do — change corporate behavior –is not easy. At stake is the Role of Government, whether that role is to assist industry in developing voluntary projects and agreements, or to develop legislation. PSI seeks to facilitate a healthy balance between regulation and free market enterprise.

Two of our most notable successes have been in partnership with the U.S. EPA.

One of those initiatives was a voluntary program, while the other resulted in model legislation. In 2004, under an EPA grant, PSI partnered with Staples to develop the first retail computer take-back program in the country. Chris Beling of EPA Region I was a diehard advocate for that project and contributed to its success. That voluntary pilot project ultimately led Staples to develop a nation-wide ewaste collection program. Other retailers selling computers and electronics have since followed with their own recycling programs.

The other notable initiative began in 2002, when EPA funded PSI to hold its first dialogue meeting with paint manufacturers, retailers, painting contractors, and government agencies. That first meeting turned into a national agreement, model legislation, and three state laws that require paint manufacturers to set up and fund a system to recycle leftover paint. The paint industry is the main engine behind the passage of these laws. The program will eventually save governments over half a billion dollars each year in paint management costs, create paint recycling jobs, and save valuable natural resources. Prior to the national agreement, PSI facilitated and managed eight voluntary projects funded jointly with nearly $2 million from government agencies and the paint industry. Barry Elman of EPA headquarters played a pivotal role in all phases of the project.

PSI is proud of its achievements to pass EPR legislation, but we also know that voluntary initiatives, as well as other government policies, have a role to play. Waste management requires solutions that are comprehensive and effective.

Thank you to the US EPA for acknowledging the Product Stewardship Institute’s achievements.

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