Reflections from the Summer Pool: An EPR Addict Tries to Stay Cool

pool 600pxOK, I am dreaming. It has been hot and steamy in Boston, and it was even hotter and steamier in Florida on my parental check-in visit last week. I am dying to jump into a giant cool pool. But instead, I find myself reflecting…on the year behind and the year ahead…over the EPR landscape in the U.S.

As an organization, PSI has hit its stride. As we approach our 15th year, we are moving from adolescence and the Constant Present to implementing our fourth long-range plan for the future. We have a solid new board of directors that includes a balance of geography (East, West, Midwest, South), politics (red, blue, and purple), and skill sets – all 100 percent committed to advancing product stewardship programs across the U.S.

We have an equally committed staff of 9 dynamic individuals, supported by over a dozen interns and consultants, who juggle multiple projects, fundraise, promote our accomplishments, and assist in passing and implementing product stewardship laws and programs on about 20 product categories!

PSI’s membership and partnership programs have steadily increased from 150 in fiscal year 2009 to over 400 today, representing an active, vibrant, and expansive product stewardship professional network of individuals from agencies, businesses, organizations, universities, and non-U.S. governments. PSI’s finances have also improved slowly but steadily over the past 14 years, and this past year was the first time we broke through the million dollar revenue mark. Our funding strategy has always been to diversify, and we have been successful in maintaining a balanced portfolio of memberships, partnerships, private and public consulting, foundation funding, and other revenue.

The EPR movement in the U.S. has also matured. There are now 82 EPR laws on 11 product categories, with at least one law in 33 states. Over the past six months, there have been many EPR “firsts”:

  • Vermont passed the nation’s first primary battery law.
  • Colorado passed its first product stewardship law (the eighth paint law in the nation).
  • Two major household battery industries representing single-use and rechargeable markets jointly developed draft legislation, preparing for the introduction of bills in several states in 2015.
  • There has been acknowledgment by carpet manufacturers that they have a responsibility nationally to fund the recycling of their post-consumer scrap carpet.
  • And, as our colleague Matt Prindiville of Upsteam pointed out on our recent Annual Membership/Partnership Conference Call, the consumer packaged goods companies have also acknowledged their responsibility to recycle their packaging.

Moreover, several additional EPR laws have a chance of passing by the end of the year.

PSI has had a hand in all of these developments, at times to a significant degree, and has been instrumental in fueling the movement. And by PSI, I mean the large coordinated network that makes us who we are today (believe it or not, we’re not just a bunch of capable staff in a hip office in Boston’s South End 🙂 !). We, collectively with all of you, are able to experience this social change because we have built a strong coalition among government officials, businesspeople, environmental activists, academics, and the general public.

This change is inevitable. It makes sense. Manufacturers make stuff, so they should be responsible for managing that stuff. But we all benefit from that stuff, so we have roles too. Defining those roles and providing a vision for the End Game is what PSI does well. We know how to involve others, and we know that all stakeholders have important interests, unique technical information, and experience.

We have all done a good job at starting new EPR programs. We need to do a better job at recognizing that new programs will always need corrective action. Product stewardship programs are new in the U.S. and globally. We need to learn from our experiences and apply what we’ve learned to make our programs better.

Last, my trip to Japan in June to present a summary of the EPR programs in the U.S. to 130 global EPR experts at the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) was eye-opening, and a great privilege. I came away with an understanding that all of us—those in developed as well as developing nations—hold the pieces to a giant waste management puzzle. But we are not always connected. For example, while some in the U.S. want to ban the export of scrap electronics, government officials in India, China, and Malaysia want to build capacity through education and training to move the informal recycling sectors in their countries to healthy formal sectors – keeping desperately needed jobs. These are two pieces to the puzzle – our e-scrap and their recyclers – that so far have not been adequately connected.

I hope that you all get a chance to kick back a bit this summer, recharge, and reconnect to the people and things you love. Rest assured that, somewhere in our vast EPR network, there is the hum of activity, advancement, and accomplishment. This engine of product stewardship will never rest. But you should.

 

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