Author Archives: Product Stewardship Institute

State E-Scrap Programs: A Living Laboratory

By Resa Dimino, Senior Advisor for Policy and Programs at the Product Stewardship Institute

escrapIn the first decade of this century, electronics recycling was a hot topic in the waste and recycling world. It was dubbed the fastest growing portion of the waste stream by US EPA, and its toxicity brought concerns from advocates for environmental health, among others. Horrifying videos surfaced about the conditions under which electronics were recycled in other countries, and news reports exposed the fact that materials generated in the US were getting recycled in difficult conditions, causing harm to workers and the environment in developing countries.

Extended producer responsibility (EPR) policy was offered as a policy solution to address all of these concerns. Assigning responsibility for recycling to the manufacturers of electronics would ensure that an infrastructure developed to handle this growing, and toxic, waste stream. It would also provide accountability for the way materials are handled – what IT or TV company wants to see its brand name featured in the next e-waste export expose? So, between 2003 and 2010, twenty-five states passed laws requiring e-scrap recycling, with twenty-three of those being EPR laws.

No two e-scrap EPR laws are exactly the same, but they do fall into a few categories. The first program, established in Maine, relies on local governments to collect electronics, and requires manufacturers to pay for any of their branded equipment that comes back through the system. Connecticut followed suit with a similar model years later. Oregon, Washington and Vermont offered variations on that theme by creating statewide programs (that typically operate through a contract with the state) that arrange for the recycling of all of the materials collected through what the state determines is a convenient collection system.

Meanwhile, a number of other states—led by Minnesota, but including Illinois, Indiana, New York, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Rhode Island – followed the “set the goal and let industry figure out how to get there” model of EPR. They each established performance goals and allocated responsibility to manufacturers to collect enough e-scrap to meet those goals. The trouble is, it’s hard to figure out where to set those goals to drive aggressive programs. On top of this, the costs of recycling have increased, so manufacturers are not enthusiastic about paying for more than they need to.

In an article recently published in E-Scrap News, PSI lays out the challenges some states are facing with e-scrap laws. As we address these challenges, we learn more about how to implement EPR in the US. We learn about critical issues, including: how much government involvement do we need to ensure a functional system? What policy mechanisms are needed to support an effective market-based recycling system? How should costs be allocated? What is the right balance between regulation and program flexibility?

The answers to these questions vary from state to state, but it is clear that the lessons we are learning now will serve us well as we seek to fix the struggling programs, and design new ones in the future.

Resa Dimino is a Senior Advisor for Policy and Programs at PSI. She works as a consultant with more than 20 years of experience in recycling policy, programs and business development. Prior to launching her consulting practice, Resa was the Director of Legislative Programs at WeRecycle!, an E-Stewards certified electronics recycler headquartered in Mt. Vernon, NY, and worked to develop collection networks in Northeast states that have electronics EPR legislation. For additional information, Resa can be reached at

Resa will be speaking about EPR and electronics on a panel at the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI) Convention on Friday, April 24, 2015. She will be presenting in the session titled, “Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) – Where is it going?”. 

Grand Opportunity in Extended Producer Responsibility

By John H. Skinner, Ph.D., Executive Director and CEO of SWANA
*This post has been republished from the SWANA newsletter, originally titled “Extended Producer Responsibility: An Opportunity, Not a Threat”. To join SWANA as a member and receive this newsletter, click here.

Extended producer responsibility (EPR) is based on the principle that producers of a product take responsibility for the end-of-life management of their products.1 In practice, this means that producers would be responsible for collecting and recycling their products and packaging once they have reached their end-of-life stage. In essence, producers would be obliged to organize the financing, organization and management of their product wastes, either by themselves or through the services of waste management companies or agencies.

One of the key goals of EPR is to provide financial incentives for producers to manufacture products and packaging that are easier to recycle. A number of products have been introduced to the marketplace, where recycling of the product is very difficult, costly and in some cases, virtually impossible, due to the choice of material and the product design. The history and current state of recycling is filled with examples. Holding the producer responsible for the recycling will create an incentive to make recyclability a key feature of product design.

EPR has had wide-scale application around the world. In Europe alone, 30 countries have established EPR as a fundamental part of their waste management system.2 Many of these programs already have driven packaging recycling levels above the quotas established set by the European Union for 2020. CalRecycle has reported on EPR programs in other parts of the world including Japan, Australia and New Zealand.3

In Canada, nine out of the ten Provinces have legislated EPR programs or requirements currently covering 94 product categories.4 The Canadian Council of Ministers reports that EPR will continue to play an important role in diverting waste from landfills and will help make Canada a world leader in waste diversion.

In the U.S., 33 states have EPR laws covering several special waste products such as computers, paints, batteries, tires and products containing mercury.5 In general, EPR has not been used in the U.S. to deal with the major components of the municipal solid waste stream such as packaging and printed materials. In contrast, five Canadian Provinces have EPR for packaging in place. In fact, there has been considerable opposition to applying EPR to these products in the U.S., not only by the producers themselves, but by some solid waste management companies and agencies. As Scott Cassel points out in the Resource Recycling article cited, this resistance continues in spite of data showing the much higher recycling rate in many European countries that have used EPR for packaging for more than 20 years.

The opposition to EPR for packaging and printed materials from the waste management industry in the U.S. stems in part from a concern that recycling programs established by producers would divert valuable, revenue-generating recyclables from existing local recycling programs. This is a legitimate concern. If higher value recyclables such as plastics, aluminum, paper and paper board were skimmed off by the producer established programs, a deleterious effect would occur for local programs. However, if producers worked through local programs to meet their EPR obligations, by providing financial resources and market support for recyclables, the economics of local programs actually could be enhanced. In fact, SWANA’s Product Stewardship Policy6 fully supports this relationship between producer supported recycling programs and local recycling programs:

“Manufacturers should…work with local governments to support, promote, improve and expand programs to collect, process and recycle products…

Implementation of product stewardship should not create new or duplicative programs that preempt existing programs run by or for local governments but should support or expand such programs in cooperation with and oversight by the local government…”

Let’s face it; the national recycling rate in the U.S. has stagnated at about 34 percent for nearly a decade. Waste management professionals should not look at EPR as a threat, but as an opportunity to bring additional resources to support and expand local efforts and drive recycling rates higher. Innovative and forward-thinking local recycling programs can develop a synergistic relationship with producer-supported EPR programs. This approach has been used in many successful EPR programs around the world.

On March 18 at SWANA’s Road to Zero Waste Conference in New Orleans, a special session titled EPR in the Real World: Lessons Learned explored the criteria for success of EPR through experiences of solid waste managers who have first-hand involvement with these programs. The presenters discussed how the lessons learned from these programs can develop useful insights for the successful application of EPR in North America and elsewhere in the world.

John Skinner is the CEO and Executive Director at the Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA). Prior to this position, John worked as a Senior Advisor at the United Nations Environment Programme. He also held a variety of positions at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from 1972-1992. You may find his full biography here. For additional information, John can be reached at


You may find the original post in the SWANA newsletter here.

1 The Extended Producer Responsibility Alliance (EXPRA), Inspiring Packaging Recycling, Brussels, Belgium. EXPRA is a not-for-profit organization, set up in 2013 with the purpose of effectively promoting authentic application of EPR for packaging waste. Its members are producer companies in over 18 countries
2 The European Experience on EPR, Joachim Quoden, Managing Director Expira, to be presented at SWANA’s Road to Zero Waste Conference, New Orleans, LA, March 18, 2015.
4 Progress Report on the Canada-Wide Action Plan for Extended Producer Responsibility, Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment, 2014.
5 EPR’s Next Step, Scott Cassel, CEO Product Stewardship Institute, Resource Recycling, December 2014.
T2.1 SWANA Technical Policy: Product Stewardship, March 28, 2014

Phone Book Action

PSI recently launched a 30-second video on the problems associated with unwanted phone books, asking citizens around the country to take a stand for consumer choice and waste reduction. The video directs individuals to a Phone Books Action Page that provides action steps citizens can take, including opting out of receiving phone books and signing a petition in support of legislation. Please distribute these links to your contacts to encourage others to help reduce the proliferation of unwanted phone books, conserve natural resources, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and stop the use of taxpayer dollars to manage an industry problem.

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Photo Essay from a PSI Tour of a Materials Recovery Facility

Last week a team from the Product Stewardship Institute took a tour of a materials recovery facility (MRF; pronounced “murph”) operated by Casella Waste Systems in Charlestown, Massachusetts, which recycles material from municipalities in the Boston area.  We would like to thank Lisa McMenemy, the Municipal Development Representative at Casella, for being such an informative tour guide and leading us through all the steps of the recycling process.  The Charlestown MRF was converted to a single-stream (also known as Zero-Sort or fully-comingled) facility in 2009.  The concept of single stream comes from Europe and is widely believed to dramatically increase the recycling rate because of the added convenience for consumers, although the quality of the materials recovered is lower.  Single-stream allows for recyclable materials (such as cardboard, newspaper, aluminum cans, plastic bottles, and glass containers) to all be placed in the same bin. When we are so accustomed to ease of curbside collection and other convenient methods of recycling, it’s hard to imagine how complex process actually is.

The single-stream MRF that PSI visited was highly automated and use cutting edge technology in order to separate materials.  The Charlestown MRF recycles around 750 tons of material every day and the most common material that is recycled is newspaper, which accounts for 60% of all the materials that are processed at the Charlestown site.  The inflows of recyclable materials are highly seasonal, with some of the largest fluctuations coinciding around the holiday season and also university events such as graduations and moving days.

The first step in the recycling process is taken when trucks deliver loads of recyclable material to the MRF.  The materials are dumped in large piles, which are then pushed onto conveyer belts by bobcats (also known as skid steers).  Metering chains make sure that the materials are not stacked too high and will not encumber the sorting processs.

With all the materials spread out along the conveyer belt, the pre-sorting begins.  The pre-sort is a labor-intensive step where materials that are not recyclable, or that may damage the equipment, are removed by hand.  Plastic bags are by far the biggest contaminant in the recycling process, and are not able to be recycled once they get to the MRF.  It is important to remember that even if you have good intentions and wish to recycle your grocery bags, the bags can slip through the pre-sort and end up in bales of other material. If a bale reaches a certain level of contamination, it can be rejected by a mill and must then be reprocessed, which requires additional energy, recycling time, and money.  Everyone should reuse plastic bags as much as possible, and consider purchasing a durable canvas bag for shopping needs.  If you want to recycle the plastic bags accumulating in your household, bring them to a store that collects them and don’t put them in your recycling bin or they willbecome a contaminant.  There are national retailers offering collection programs across the country.  Lowe’s and Target both offer complimentary recycling stations for plastic bags and you should be sure to check with you local grocer or retailer to see if they offer similar services as well.

With the pre-sort complete, a series of screens then separates out light paper products, such as newspaper, from heavier products that will fall through the screens and move onto a further series of conveyer belts.  The smallest objects, typically broken glass and shredded bits of paper, falls through the screen and sent to a belt beneath the entire system of screens, while the plastics and metals continue on.

Next, magnetic fields are used to force metal cans from the main conveyer belt.  A magnetic current is calibrated so that steal and tin products are separated into one bunker, and a reverse magnetic field is used to so aluminum products are separated into another bunker.

Now that paper and metals have been removed from the conveyer belt, plastics are further separated by their physical properties.  An optical sorter separates clear plastics, such as soda bottles, from opaque plastics, such as milk jugs.  When the optical sorter identifies a material as a certain type of plastic, different forces of compressed air are shot at the conveyer belt and are adjusted to propel separate types of plastics into separate containers.

Once all the materials are sorted they are separated into bales that are sold to mills in order to be reprocessed into familiar products.  Just a few examples of new products created from recycled materials are plastic bottles that will be converted into carpet and fleece, tin cans that will become rebar and bike parts, and cardboard which will be reclaimed as a lower grade of paper product such as cereal boxes.  It is important to recycle as much as you can in order to create great products out of used materials, but it is important not to recycle material that may contaminate loads.  Don’t hesitate to call your local waste management service provider to determine what materials are acceptable in your area.  For those covered by Casella’s service you may visit for more information.

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PSI Interview Series: Jennifer Sweatt

Product Stewardship Institute: What is the #1 product stewardship issue that needs to be addressed?

Jennifer Sweatt: First would be getting the word out about what product stewardship is, I didn’t know about it until I came to PSI.  Next would be packaging, I see so much waste in packaging and it drives me crazy.

PSI: What brought you to the environmental movement?

JS: Although I have always been conscience of the environment and tried to “do my part” it was not until I came to PSI that I really became a part of the “movement.”

PSI: Who was your greatest influence? I have had 3 major influences; my dad, a college professor, and my last boss. 

JS: My dad has always been my mentor and I have tried to emulate him in many ways, my college professor taught me how to think and write, and my last boss taught me so much about business, how best to mange organizations, and how to handle myself professionally.

PSI: What could the environmental movement do better?

JS: I don’t necessarily think we need to keep telling people the world is in an environmental crisis, almost everyone knows that and those that don’t well….  I think what we need to do more of is letting people know what they can do personally, beyond putting paper, cans, and plastics in the recycling bucket.  Within a few months of being at PSI I came across so many ways I could do things differently or better and although some are more than many people may want or be able to do, others are easily incorporated into daily life.

PSI: What is the environmental movement doing right?

JS: I see the movement turning from the traditional “hippie” stereotype to becoming a part of people’s everyday lives.  For kids today recycling has always been a part of their lives and they are more open to what changes need to be made and are more mindful of their personal impact.

PSI: On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being not at all and a 10 being zero waste, how good a recycler are you?

JS: Probably a 6, maybe a 7.  We recycle everything we can.  We have a compost pile and take larger items to the town compost area.  We do look at packaging when purchasing items, and have used it as a decision factor.  We try and capture some of our gray water to water our plants with and we try and buy things that can be reused versus one-time use, and have done a fairly decent job of not using plastic bags.

PSI: What is the 1 gadget from “the future” you’d like to see in real life?

JS: There are so many: tractor beams, light sabers, medical scanners, holograms,  but realistically I would like to see a good, reliable, plentiful, cost efficient source of energy that we can use world-wide.

PSI: What 1 thing do you do better than anyone else you know?

JS: I am not sure I do anything better than anyone else, just as good maybe.  Although I do make a mean lasagna.

PSI: What would be the title of your autobiography?

JS: “Bottle of red, bottle of white”

PSI: What would you be if you could be anything else?

JS: A writer.

PSI: What wouldn’t you want to be?

JS: Someone who had to do small menial tasks all day, everyday – it would drive me crazy

PSI: What is your proudest accomplishment?

JS: I’m not sure I have one pinnacle moment yet.  I am proud that my husband and I had our own business for a while, that we did take that chance.  But, if I had to choose it would probably be my pets – we’ve adopted 3 cats and 2 dogs over the years and all were rescues.  It kills me to think someone didn’t want them, because they are so great and bring me such joy.

Jennifer Sweatt is the Business Manager for the Product Stewardship Institute.  She has over 15 years of experience in finance, administration and in managing small to medium-sized businesses.  She was the co-founder of AICS, a local Internet access company in the mid to late 1990’s, and has also worked in the hardware engineering and medical devices industries.  She has spent countless hours volunteering for organizations such as Habitat for Humanity and her local library, and is a proud Big Sister with Big Brothers Big Sisters.  She is an avid reader and enjoys spending time on the seacoast and walking her dogs. She received her MBA from Norwich University and her undergraduate degree from Bentley College.

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PSI Interview Series: Dave Galvin

Source: the Daily Mail

Today we will begin a new series of blogs where we will interview people involved with PSI and Product Stewardship.  Our first interview is with from the King County Department of Natural Resources in Washington State and holds the all important role of Board President here at PSI.

PSI:     What is the #1 product stewardship issue that needs to be addressed?

DG:     I always come back to the “cradle-to-cradle” concept:  all products should be able to be sorted into one of two categories, those that are compostable and those that are not.  The latter group (what McDonough and Braungart called “technical” materials) should belong to the manufacturer who made them, and should be taken back and reused in infinite recycling loops.  If we can get this concept to be widely accepted, the details will fall into place.

PSI: What brought you to the environmental movement?

DG: Birds.  I’ve been a birder since I was nine years old.  When I was 11 I read “Silent Spring,” and it turned me into an environmentalist even before that term was coined.

PSI:     Who was your greatest influence?

DG:     I was fortunate as a kid to have three wonderful mentors: a naturalist, a local land conservationist, and an ahead-of-her-time environmentalist.  The first two, Linaea Thelin and Ben Nichols, were local icons not widely known beyond the town;  the third some of this blog’s readers might know from her pioneering work in New England environmentalism: Nancy Anderson.

PSI:     What could the environmental movement do better?

DG:     Become so mainstream that it is no longer a movement.  That means being meaningful to all different types of people and part of their core values: children’s health, things like that.  The “environment” for too long was conveyed as something out there, a national park or a habitat to be preserved.  Instead, we should be promoting the environment as all around us, where we live, and make it as fundamental as eating and breathing.  We have progressed in this direction over the years, but we still have a ways to go to connect environmentalism with social justice, family-wage jobs, poverty-eradication and core American values.

PSI:     What is the environmental movement doing right?

DG:     Moving in the direction I just noted above.

PSI:     On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being not at all and a 10 being zero waste, how good a recycler are you?

DG:     6, maybe 7.

PSI:     What is the 1 gadget from “the future” you’d like to see in real life?

DG:     Completely compostable stuff that is now made up of plastics or mixed materials that can’t even be recycled.  Compostable packaging, compostable toys, compostable building materials.  I know that’s not just 1 gadget, but that’s a concept I’ve long envisioned.  Compostable stuff would not contain hazardous chemicals beyond what are already present in nature.

PSI:     What 1 thing do you do better than anyone else you know?

DG:     Throw an axe.  (I won the Northeast woodsmen’s championships one year, many years ago…)

PSI:     What would be the title of your autobiography?

DG:     In balance: a journey not a destination.

PSI:     What would you be if you could be anything else?

DG:     A bird — I’ve always thought it would be cool to fly and look at the world from over the treetops.  Which species?  Something like a kingfisher, a bird with attitude.

PSI:     What is your proudest accomplishment?

DG:     Raising two bright, caring kids who are so concerned about the environment and have such a world view that they give me hope for the future.

Dave Galvin is program manager for the Hazardous Waste Management Unit in King County (Seattle, Washington), part of the multi-agency “Local Hazardous Waste Management Program in King County.”  This program addresses household and small business hazardous wastes in the Seattle metropolitan area. Dave began working in this subject area in 1979 and was the one who coined the term “household hazardous waste.”  He was the founding president of the North American Hazardous Materials Management Association and is the current president of the Product Stewardship Institute’s board.  He has also worked on stormwater and combined sewer overflow controls, trace organic chemicals in wastewater, pesticide-reduction, and Endangered Species Act listings of salmon, along with his decades of attention to hazardous wastes.

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Creating a mental bridge from material to social aspects of product stewardship

Below is a blog post by Rodney North of Equal Exchange, in preparation for the PSI Networking Conference Call on Thursday, Oct. 28 (2:00-3:30 EST). This blog discusses the connection that Equal Exchange makes to the lifecycle, social, and environmental impacts from making its products. They strive to make a better, more sustainable, product in a way that most companies are not yet thinking. We will continue this discussion on our networking call. Please join us for the dialogue.


For those interested in product stewardship the focus historically has been upon physical/material matters – such as:

 Is a product toxic in its production, use, or disposal?

Can it be recycled? If so how?

How much water or energy is used in its life-cycle?


We do this both out of a concern for the environment itself but equally because of the direct and indirect effects upon people. And if improving human welfare is sometimes/often/or always your motivation for product stewardship then we modestly suggest a wider perspective on the many ways the stuff people buy impacts people’s lives.
For this reason Equal Exchange might have unusual insights to share with the product stewardship community. For 24 years we have worked hard to make select industries that produce goods that most Americans buy every month, and maybe even daily – like the coffee, tea and banana trades – work better for more people. We’re focused most of all on the millions of small-scale farmers around the world who grow these crops. In fact the industries beyond these everyday items have shaped the course of history for dozens of nations. For example, where do you think the phrase “a banana republic” came from? Suffice to say that the systems that keep our grocery stores stocked with bountiful amounts of very affordable tropical products works better for food companies, retailers and consumers than they do for farmers or farm workers.

Specifically, as a business Equal Exchange has been uniquely concerned with how the buying and selling of products affect people, especially those who are the most disadvantaged within a given supply chain. So even when the physical aspects of a product pose no threat we have seen over and over how the commercial aspects of a supply chain can have powerful negative or positive effects upon communities both abroad and here at in the U.S. It is for these reasons that back in 1986 we helped introduce to US grocery stores the Fair Trade model for imported foods.

In the U.S. and other developed economies we have taken many steps to soften the edges of the marketplace so that it is not as callous, dangerous and exploitative as Charles Dickens’ “dark satanic mills” or Upton Sinclair’s “jungle”. There is still more to be done – for example for migrant farm workers and meat-packing employees – but especially for those in less affluent nations, where the marketplace remains largely ungoverned and where the vast majority work at the mercy of amoral and impersonal market forces.

I know that’s strong language but there is no other way to describe it. Plus it helps explain why there is a need for companies like Equal Exchange and why governments, at all levels, should think about products more broadly and consider not only physical and environmental attributes, but also the social character of how goods are produced and traded.

With that said, Equal Exchange is also very concerned about the environmental impacts associated with our products and for good reason. After one’s home and maybe even more than one’s car the food we buy (annually over $6,000 per year per person) may represent the largest environmental impact we have.  For example, agricultural is a bigger contributor to climate change than are all forms of transportation combined. A whole host of other environmental issues also pivot on farming, including soil erosion, dead zones in the Gulf and Chesapeake Bay, and loss of wildlife habitat. So if you care about how products affect the environment, then you have to think about food, which means thinking about farming. At Equal Exchange we do and that is why over 95% of what we import is organically grown.

This is where our work, and that of tens of thousands of organic farmers around the world, overlaps most closely with the traditional concerns around product stewardship.  Let’s put it in what might be more familiar language.

Imagine you have two ways to produce a widget:

Process A involves chemicals ranging from mild to very toxic, including many that are have long been banned in the U.S. due to their extreme environmental side-effects when used as directed.  The chemicals are often used by people with no safety instruction or equipment (masks, gloves, aprons, washing stations, etc). There is little-to-no regulatory oversight of the use of these chemicals. Direct and indirect harmful exposure to workers, their families, and other in their communities is common, resulting in frequent illness, and even birth-defects and death. Rivers and public water sources become contaminated. These chemicals are typically combined with complementary production techniques that together accelerate climate change, soil erosion in mountainous regions, lower soil fertility and the loss of both animal and plant biodiversity.

And Process B for producing the widget avoids all of the problems above, while also sequestering carbon and increasing climate change resilience, restoring soil fertility, minimizing erosion, restoring biodiversity, and encouraging a stewardship mentality to the productive resources involved. Process B often produces higher quality “widgets” and is also sufficiently productive and efficient to be competitively priced on the market.

This over-simplified story of 2 “widgets” essentially captures some of the production choices we face in how much of our food is produced in the global South, and we hope the product stewardship community will consider this, as well the human/commercial side of those supply chains, in the years to come.

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