Well, by golly. Our last blog entry has made quite a splash!
Ever since PSI shed light on AMERIPEN’s (draft) stance on Extended Producer Responsibility or EPR—the concept of having manufacturers bear the financial responsibility of recycling or safely disposing of their products after consumer use—I have been inundated with emails, phone calls, messages, and other “shout-outs” from people all across North America. While some responses have been quite negative (one said that PSI destroyed all its credibility and another said that the blog was harsh and insulting), most have been extremely positive—even congratulatory!
So, in the spirit of open communication and transparency, I wanted to share these comments—the good, the bad, and the ugly. By publishing them on PSI’s blog, I hope to give you a sense for both the temperature and the magnitude of the issue at hand. It’s clear that I have struck a chord with many people. Some took my blog as a personal attack, which was not intended. Nor was it intended to insult anyone. It was written because some of AMERIPEN’s members were saying one thing and then doing something completely different behind closed doors.
The only way to resolve our differences is to discuss them—frankly, openly, and freely—together. And if one way to make that happen is to keep the dialogue moving on PSI’s blog, well, then that’s what I will do.
With that, here are the comments I’ve received thus far. Please note that, to respect the privacy of those who do not wish to disclose their identities and/or affiliations publicly, I have omitted the authors’ names and the names of their respective companies/organizations.
“Good for you, my friend. Go after them. You are calling a spade, a spade. Congratulations.” —Emailed by the president of a recycling association
“Interesting. But not sure AMERIPEN’s position is necessarily flawed.” —Emailed by the vice president of government relations for a North American recycler
“THANK YOU! for speaking up! GREAT information, although disturbing. You’re one of the things we’re especially thankful for during this Thanksgiving season, and all year long. It was especially disturbing to me to see several of the Keep America Beautiful partners/sponsors on the Ameripen list.” —Emailed by the coordinator of an environmental beautification program run by a county health department
Your recent blog post has caused some concern for [us]….there are statements in the blog that do not align with a collaborative nature. As a result, we fear that key companies for the EPR dialogue [in which PSI was to participate] may decline an invitation to participate when the dialogue is branded with PSI…We remain committed to improving material capture and the implementation of policy and practice that leads to that end. Your commitment to these goals is appreciated and we will seek opportunities in which we can cooperate with each other in the future. —Emailed by the executive director of a regional recycling association
“We (in the office) enjoyed and appreciated the blog very much. As a professional management organization, we need to be honest and include all data and its sources, all facts, including information that might not support our own perceptions or personal opinion. Once again, as a professional management organization, we need to be neutral. We believe in rigorous analysis and having the accurate data so that credible comparisons can be made. Your blog raised questions, which is good, because the AMERIPEN position was not based on the right data. If you want someone to believe you and be a reference, you need to base your assertions on the best information you can have. Once this process is done, the debate can start.” —Emailed by the representative from a stewardship organization
“This was very helpful, Scott.” —Emailed by the president of a nationwide recycling organization
“Thanks for posting…not sure why such a position would be of benefit to them…perhaps arrogance.” —Emailed by a mattress recycler
“Here is great response to AMERIPEN’s position on EPR from Scott Cassel. It’s another reminder that PSI is fighting the battle every day for all of us! If you aren’t a member of PSI already you should be.” —Emailed by the coordinator of a state product stewardship program
“Very well said, as always, Scott. It seems that as long as taxpayers accept that they are effectively subsidizing large corporations through their municipal solid waste programs, and consumers continue to buy products that are over-packaged in difficult-to-recycle materials without complaint, what do those corporations have to gain by coming to the table to accept their fair share of responsibility? Be encouraged at least by the fact that they felt the need to address the issue of EPR at all, albeit in a negative way. I think that is a good first step. Perhaps it is the public we need to engage with first, to get product manufacturers to finally come to the table.” —Posted by the executive director of a local recycling cooperative
“My impression… is that we have really bought into EPR for those hard-to-dispose-of items, such as electronics, mercury-containing thermostats, pharmaceuticals, etc. Don’t get me wrong; I truly believe EPR is the ultimate destination of our industry, but the story I tell our residents/my peers is from the standpoint of hard-to-dispose-of items. Probably we’re looking at the same animal from different vantage points.” —Emailed by a commercial recycling and city beautification coordinator
“Scott: Congrats. Another great post. I hope it lights a fire under some of the members! I will forward to my contacts at big brands who are Ameripen members…I heard there was an 8-3 policy vote on the EPR position. Any idea who the three companies are that did not oppose EPR? Thanks.” —Emailed by a senior program director of a national nonprofit focused on corporate social responsibility
“Thanks for the info. I am not a PSI member but have attended meetings. I work in a small industry that really has no choice but to engage in rule making, since we know we can’t stop it. I find PSI to be very balanced in this release. To me it’s obvious one of 2 or 3 facts must be in evidence with the packaging industry. They don’t trust the “agenda” of some of the stakeholders within PSI. Within industry, a public process can be a threat, and honest discussion can get a seasoned professional in trouble. They have determined while doing their EPR work they don’t not a way to advance the business and meet the anticipated criteria. If you’re a corporate officer you have legal duty to your stockholders. Maybe they did their work and see they have to resist in favor of profit: I infer that the Euro-scare part (must be from US) is based on this. They must think they can win. Maybe they don’t trust PSI, so PSI needs to work within their trade groups to build that trust – please note, this will be a more private forum. It seems clear to me think they can win or delay (delay is a win for stockholders). One think about business is that there are conservative: if they think there is a nightmare scenario buy not helping, they will help. Right now they do not know, and maybe they do know, where this will lead and its bad for them. So I think this is the key problem, they think they can hold it off, and have to, because they can’t justify it to the owners. I wish you luck. I think inevitability based on the case for recycling is your most powerful message. You tell them they can’t win. Also, ask “what’s in it for them?” they are businesses after all. The cold fact is: government works mostly in the area of economic externalities like waste and pollution, while business work in internal economics, like profits. The external cost must be linked to the internal costs, obviously Extended Producer Responsibility is one way to do it. They may be rejecting that route for now. A Machiavellian approach would be to find the weakest member of their coalition, the one who benefits most, and get them inside the tent.” —Emailed by a technical manager at a coatings manufacturing company
“Thanks Scott, I forwarded this to several others.” —Emailed by a waste management specialist at a state recycling organization
“Scott: Nicely done. I appreciate hearing about this and getting the link to the response on your blog.” —Emailed by the executive director of a biosolids recycling organization
“Hi Scott, I tweeted this from all (of our) Twitter accounts. I’ll post to (Facebook) shortly.” —Emailed by the director of a state chapter of a national environmental advocacy nonprofit
“Great response. I just want to confirm that I can forward this to others outside the agency.” —Emailed by a statewide recycling program coordinator
“Good Job, Scott!” —Emailed by a North American post-consumer beverage container management organization
“The criticisms you level against AMERIPEN are precisely the ones that I would level against the recycling and EPR communities. You guys have no interest in assessing the reality of your claims by any kind of scientific measure. Your belief system is simply a religion, based on nothing substantial at all, and lots of misleading hype. You mention that recycling rates are stagnant but you are not prepared to explore the underlying reasons for that. The reasons are abundant and obvious: recycling is in idiotic approach to conservation, it is end of pipe, it is exploited by the garbage industry to increase garbage production and it has not got a prayer of ever becoming widely adopted unless governments impose it by force. The idea of instilling a new consciousness into the mind of every person on earth about green bins and purple bins and modes of separation is hopeless. And even if you could, you would not have one jot of influence on wasting behaviors since you have a primitive, simplistic notion of the sources of wasting. The only way to make progress in resource conservation comes from a production side approach, not a consumption side or end of pipe approach. The only concept that makes any sense is called Zero Waste meaning a redesign of production and commerce to design for perpetual reuse. You can read about it at http://www.zerowasteinstitute.org. This approach HAS NOTHING WHATSOEVER to do with your bogus zero waste to landfill or with recycling or consumer side waste reduction. Those are hopeless approaches that have failed worldwide and will continue to fail everywhere. And EPR is even worse, being nothing but a device to move costs from cities to manufacturers. Many cities have stated this openly, but you cannot allow that interpretation so you continue to pretend that you are pushing a conservation theory, though there is not the slightest support for that in the approach.” —Posted by the founder of a zero waste nonprofit organization
“I’m sure Scott will have a more articulate response, but let me start. You are missing the point. Zero Waste and EPR are not mutually exclusive approaches, but rather EPR is one tool in the chest to achieve zero waste. The recycling community is no stranger to Zero Waste, and we are fully aware that recycling is not the solution, but it IS a critical element to the solution. We are living in the real world, not the ideal one that you envision. If you think our approach of changing the behavior of humanity is hopeless, then how do you think we are going to get to corporations completely shifting their model of producing items that can be infinitely reused? And what is wrong with shifting the costs of managing discarded materials from municipalities to the manufacturers that foist them on us? (yes, I work for municipalities) If they are made to be responsible for the waste they create, then if they are truly trying to minimize their costs, they will find a way to put the materials that they have mined, purified and molded to their design back to use. We in the recycling community have to deal with today’s realities, and that is where we have to start. Paradigm shifts take a long time, but a journey of 1000 miles begins with a single step.” —Posted by the executive director of a local recycling cooperative in response to the comment above