Author Archives: Product Stewardship Institute

Initiating the Conversation on Packaging EPR in the U.S. – the Levers for Change

As experts articulate the successes of their respective extended producer responsibility (EPR) packaging programs, it can start to sound like a “blend of science fiction, fantasy, and… a little magical realism” to some U.S. state and local government officials. What levers for change will compel stakeholders to pursue EPR for packaging in the United States?

Victor Bell (Environmental Packaging International) and Allen Langdon (Multi-Material British Columbia) point to the increasing costs local governments are facing within the current U.S. “blue box” system. As commodities markets continue to decline, recyclers are continually losing the revenue they once achieved from selling valuable recovered materials. On top of this, because oil prices are so low, it is cheaper to make plastics from virgin resources than from recovered resources – further decreasing the recycling revenue stream. Recyclers therefore need to cover their costs by increasing the service rates they charge local governments.

As these economic shifts become more pronounced, “the only way to deal with them,” says Langdon, “will be to put a new system in place to address those challenges.” British Columbia transitioned to an EPR system for packaging and printed paper in 2014 after experiencing similar economic shifts.

This 5-part video series kicks off a comprehensive set of resources PSI is developing on EPR for packaging. Keep on the lookout for webinars, fact sheets, videos, and more in 2016. 

Looking for more? Watch the first three videos in our series. You can also sign up for PSI’s upcoming webinar, “Examples of Change: Packaging EPR in Europe and Canada.”

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Local Governments are Key to Packaging EPR in the U.S.

As we come to further understand packaging extended producer responsibility (EPR) programs worldwide – including those in Europe and Canada – it can be difficult to picture how the United States could alter its materials management system so drastically. While many stakeholders see the benefits of packaging EPR, including saving governments money, increasing efficiency, and improving recycling rates, the process of passing such a law can feel daunting. How can we gather enough support to introduce, let alone pass, such legislation?

According to Victor Bell from Environmental Packaging International, the best way to guarantee success in potentially passing an EPR bill for packaging at the state level is to drum up unified support at the city and county level. When local governments and the environmental community form a united front, the pressure will drive legislators to act.

While Allen Langdon from Multi-Material British Columbia acknowledges that the U.S. system of checks and balances can be difficult to navigate when trying to pass legislation, he’s also optimistic. “Now that [packaging EPR] is in North America,” he says, “it should be a game changer. The fact that EPR is working in North America … should send a signal that this is possible, and it gives you… an example or a model to work from.” British Columbia transitioned to an EPR program for packaging and printed paper in 2014; its previous system was very similar to the current U.S. system.

Interested in drumming up local support for a packaging EPR bill? Contact Waneta Trabert at (617) 236-4866.

This 5-part video series kicks off a comprehensive set of resources PSI is developing on EPR for packaging. Keep on the lookout for webinars, fact sheets, videos, and more in spring/summer 2016. 

Looking for more? Watch the first video in the series, featuring Steve Claus from FostPlus in Belgium, and the second video, featuring Allen Langdon from Multi-Material British Columbia. You can also sign up for for PSI’s upcoming webinar, “Examples of Change: Packaging EPR in Europe and Canada.”

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Why is EPR for packaging such a hot topic right now?

Allen Langdon is the Managing Director of Multi-Material British Columbia, the stewardship organization in charge of managing British Columbia’s packaging extended producer responsibility (EPR) program – a program that boasts an 80% recovery rate. In this video, Allen explains why EPR laws for packaging are emerging in countries all over the world, Canadian provinces included.

With numerous challenges facing the current recycling system in the U.S., EPR makes economic sense. In fact, the U.S. is the only Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) member nation that does not have EPR in place or in development. At the same time, there is global momentum for industries to focus on building a circular economy.

There are currently 92 EPR laws in the U.S. in 33 states on 12 different product categories – none of which pertain to packaging. EPR bills have been introduced this year for packaging and printed paper in Rhode Island and Indiana, as well as in Illinois (specifically for plastic bags). PSI is working to educate state and local governments on the benefits of EPR for packaging in the U.S. by communicating international successes and experiences.

As Allen states, packaging EPR truly is the “next step in the circular economy,” and can positively influence a product’s entire value chain from design to end-of-life.

This 5-part video series kicks off a comprehensive set of resources PSI is developing on EPR for packaging. Keep on the lookout for webinars, fact sheets, videos, and more in spring/summer 2016. 

Looking for more? Watch the first video in the series, featuring Steve Claus from FostPlus in Belgium, and sign up for our upcoming webinar, “Examples of Change: Packaging EPR in Europe and Canada.” 

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Is the time right for packaging EPR in the U.S.?

Last December, the Product Stewardship Institute (PSI) hosted the 2015 U.S. Product Stewardship Forum, where environmental experts from around the world discussed issues regarding zero waste, extended producer responsibility (EPR), product stewardship, and the circular economy.

One particularly engaging session – “Exploring Packaging EPR in the U.S.” – featured global experts involved in successful packaging EPR programs in Belgium, British Columbia, and Quebec, and inspired attendees to rethink current U.S. packaging programs.

Packaging EPR laws require producers to cover the cost of recycling packaging when consumers are done with it. These systems increase recycling rates by providing consistent, statewide programs that accept the same materials in all cities and towns, and promulgate the same educational messages. These programs can also incentivize producers to incorporate environmentally-preferable materials into their packaging and reduce the amount of packaging they use. In contrast to the U.S., packaging EPR laws are in place in 34 European nations; 11 countries in Asia, South America, and Africa; Australia; and 5 Canadian provinces. This puts the U.S. at a competitive disadvantage to other countries that require brand owners to properly manage the packaging they produce.

In the first part of PSI’s 5-part video series, Steve Claus from Fost Plus in Belgium – whose packaging recovery program boasts an 80% recovery rate – describes why the time is right to implement an EPR system in the U.S.

This video series kicks off a comprehensive set of resources PSI is developing on EPR for packaging. Keep on the lookout for webinars, fact sheets, videos, and more in spring-summer 2016. 

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Senator John F. Keenan: Comments on “My Old Meds” Campaign

By Senator John F. Keenan, Massachusetts Senate

On March 16, 2016, Governor Charlie Baker signed into law a comprehensive drug abuse prevention bill that made Massachusetts the first state in the nation to require drug companies to fund and manage a safe disposal program for unwanted medications. Massachusetts Senator John F. Keenan was the first to introduce the drug take-back portion of this bill to the MA legislature, and acted as an influential proponent of its inclusion in the final law. Below, Senator Keenan cautions us to stay vigilant to PhRMA’s attempts to skirt the law’s intended purpose.

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You would think that a group that helped create the opioid epidemic, which certainly has profited from it, and which is acknowledging that its products continue to fuel the epidemic, would offer more to help solve the epidemic than a catchy phrase, a website and a complete abrogation of playing any role in cleaning up the mess.

Yet, that’s what a newly formed group called “My Old Meds” has done. The sponsor of this group is the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), made up of representatives of the pharmaceutical industry. Some of these people and the firms they represent are making a lot of money from the sale of prescription painkillers, firms like Purdue Pharma, the people who brought us OxyContin and, more recently, OxyContin for kids.

“My Old Meds” recently brought their message to Massachusetts, advising that unused drugs are often diverted and become fuel for the opioid epidemic, and that old meds should therefore be disposed of at home in the trash or at government sponsored drug disposal sites.

In so advising, the sponsors of “My Old Meds” attempted to wash their hands of any responsibility for the disposal of unused medications, and place it instead on the patient and the taxpayer. Their theory: sell more pills than people need, reap the profits, then make others pay for the cleanup.

Their message was strategically timed, just as Massachusetts was considering legislation to require that pharmaceutical companies themselves become responsible for funding and operating a take-back and disposal program for unused pills. The industry was very comfortable with the arrangement of the past, watching their balance sheets grow in step with the excessive number of pills sold while communities scrambled to address the resulting opioid epidemic. That’s why they introduced their catchy phrase and website. They wanted to appear to be helpful, to convince us that no real change was necessary.

The Massachusetts Legislature was not fooled. We can be proud now of becoming the first state in the nation to require a pharmaceutical product stewardship program.

But now we must expect PhRMA’s campaign for in-home, patient and community funded disposal to continue. They will “educate” the public that they can spend their own money to buy cat litter or other carbon products that make pills “safe” for disposal, or that pills can simply be flushed into our water systems.

We must be vigilant. The new law allows the Massachusetts Department of Public Health to design an alternative stewardship plan, in which manufacturers will be allowed to participate rather than fund and operate their own programs. We must work to prevent the industry from influencing the regulatory process. We cannot let them seek regulations that set a low bar for industry responsibility, and that maximize the share of responsibility falling back onto public systems. We must work to ensure that the Department’s program is robust and effective, not a back door that lets manufacturers again step away from responsibility for safe stewardship of unused medications.

We have taken an important first step, but we must continue to fend off the message that manufacturer responsibility can be satisfied with a slogan and website.

Senator Keenan wrote a follow-up piece related to National Take-Back Day on MassLive. Learn more about Senator Keenan by visiting his website. Please feel free to contact Vivian Futran Fuhrman, PSI’s pharmaceuticals lead, with comments and questions (617-236-4771), or visit the PSI pharmaceuticals webpage for more information. 

More printed catalogs mean more energy, water and paper gone to waste

By Natalie Nava, Operations Manager, Catalog Choice

A few weeks ago, my grandfather celebrated his 93rd birthday. He lives alone, and so after the celebration my mother and I decided to help go through his mail. In his large pile of mail were 30 calendars from charitable and political organizations my grandfather had sent nominal donations to over the years. If junk mail is a nuisance in your life, you’re not alone. Since the 1990s, national reports have shown that more than 80% people don’t like receiving junk mail and wish they could make it stop.

man shovels mailI oversee operations of Catalog Choice, a service that helps people opt-out of certain types of junk mail, mostly paper catalogs. In 2013, many more catalogs were mailed to American homes compared to previous years – 11.9 billion to be exact (catalog mailings peaked at 19.6 billion in 2007). Why the spike? Because many companies, even those without brick-and-mortar storefronts, consider “multi-channel marketing” important for driving sales. Catalogs also have certain advantages over other kinds of marketing tools; they track return-on-investment more easily than social media campaigns, and (let’s face it) the elegant and expertly-shot layouts in printed catalogs make products come alive in a more visceral way than online.

Restoration Hardware knows this perhaps better than any other merchant: in 2014, their record-breaking, 3,000-page annual catalog boosted sales for the year. But it also sparked a flurry of negative comments on social media about the paper waste from folks who had no interest in purchasing from the company.

So let’s talk about the downsides of all these unwanted catalogs. Aside from Restoration Hardware’s catalog brick arriving on our porches, it’s rare that we consider the impacts of the paper industry. But in fact, its impact is huge. As a few examples, the Department of Energy stated that the paper industry is the fourth largest industrial user of energy, behind chemical production and petroleum and metal refining. Meanwhile, ForestEthics estimates that mail advertisements generate 51.5 million metric tons of greenhouse gases every year.

It’s important to recognize the companies that are printing catalogs more responsibly, such as Patagonia, who uses FSC-certified paper to print their catalog. Even Restoration Hardware purchased carbon offsets for their massive sourcebook! These options are better, but unfortunately they’re not sufficient. Neither is recycling, as it simply cannot neutralize the paper, energy and carbon costs required for the production of new catalogs. And limited recycling infrastructure in some areas means that about 40% of all unwanted catalogs end up in landfills without having ever been opened. What a waste!

Business Reply MailWhen we consider certain realities – water scarcity, consumer privacy concerns, or the increasing amount of purchases made online – is junk mail really worth it? At least from the perspective of businesses, the answer seems to be a resounding yes for now. Meanwhile, there is a growing movement of individuals and organizations pushing corporations to take greater accountability. This movement includes solutions like extended producer responsibility legislation, which would make companies responsible for the final disposal of their products; or a national Do Not Mail list, which would allow people to opt-out of all junk mail in one simple step. We’re excited for this movement to take off, and in the meantime, our goal is for Catalog Choice to spark dialogue about paper consumption and waste issues and help people simplify their lives.

You may create an account at catalogchoice.org to start opting out of catalogues today.

The Story of Stuff Project seeks to transform the way we make, use and throw away Stuff. On March 24, 2015, The Story of Stuff Project acquired Catalog Choice to help people save trees and simplify their lives by reducing unwanted junk mail. Natalie Nava oversees operations of Catalog Choice. You can reach her at natalie@catalogchoice.org.

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Where do our old electronics end up?

By Susan Cosier, Journalist at EarthWire
*This post has been republished with permission from OnEarth, the magazine of the Natural Resources Defense Council, originally titled “Landfill Life”. Photos have been republished with permission from Kevin McElvaney.

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We toss a lot of electronic waste—46 million tons in 2014 alone. And even though smartphones, computers, and televisions contain valuable metals like copper and sometimes even gold, less than one-sixth are recycled properly. So impoverished people all over the world, in places such as Agbogbloshie, Ghana—where these photos were taken—go into dumps looking to see what they can scavenge and sell at markets. Landfills, of course, aren’t healthy places to spend a lot of time in.

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In 2013 photographer Kevin McElvaney captured these powerful images of men and children lighting fires to burn away the rubber and plastic of discarded objects to get to what’s inside. The fumes trigger breathing difficulties, nausea, and headaches, but still they press on, trying to make a living off the resources we take for granted.

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For information on solutions to electronics waste — particularly product stewardship solutions — please visit the PSI website

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A New, Easy Way to Recycle Your Old Thermostat

Household thermostatBy Matt Newman, Director of Business Management, Covanta

How do you build a successful thermostat collection program in a short period of time?

Public/private partnerships.

That’s exactly how a new initiative was recently launched in Oklahoma. Covanta Tulsa, Locke Supply, the Oklahoma Department Environmental Quality (ODEQ), the Thermostat Recycling Corporation (TRC), and the Product Stewardship Institute (PSI) teamed up to start a new state-wide collection program in a relatively short period of time.

Covanta has a long history of caring about the proper disposal of mercury-containing items, and the need for a collection program in Oklahoma was evident. Using the positive relationships we have built in the many years we have operated in the state, we were pleased to be the catalyst that brought these diverse groups together to provide a convenient way to responsibly recycle mercury-containing thermostats. Thanks to the collaborative work of the five aforementioned organizations, citizens and contractors are now able to deliver intact old thermostats to any Locke Supply location for recycling free of charge.

The thermostat recycling initiative in Oklahoma began with a brief meeting with Fenton Rood of ODEQ to develop a state-wide solution for thermostat recycling that could supplement periodic household hazardous waste collection days that are held in some communities. From there, we decided to look for a retail storefront solution that would allow ubiquitous collection during normal business hours. Locke Supply, with their numerous locations around the state, was the perfect fit.

Thermostat recycling containers are now in place at convenient and accessible locations throughout Oklahoma. When full, containers will be shipped to TRC for proper disposal and recycling. In an attempt to incentivize collection even further, Locke Supply obtained participation from a few of their new thermostat suppliers to offer a “bounty” program: bring in an old thermostat with mercury switches and Locke Supply will provide a $10 coupon for a programmable replacement thermostat.

Mercury thermostat recovery and recycling offers everyone the opportunity to eliminate a toxic material from the waste stream, while incentivizing the purchase of electronic thermostats that allow for more efficient heating and cooling. By identifying a diverse group of organizations with common interests, Covanta has now proudly provided one more way to protect the state’s land, air and water from unnecessary pollution.

Matt Newman joined Covanta Energy in 2008 and has over 25 years experience in the energy industry which includes renewable energy, electricity generation, asset optimization, risk management and fossil fuel management. In his current position, Mr. Newman is responsible for all business aspects for the Covanta Tulsa Renewable Energy, LLC, as well as carrying additional responsibilities for the South Region of Covanta Energy’s extensive fleet of Energy from Waste facilities in the United States. For additional information, Matt may be reached at mnewman@covanta.com.

Looking to start a thermostat collection program like this one in your area? Contact PSI for guidance at suna@productstewardship.us or (617) 671-0616.

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A Product Stewardship Approach to “Flushable” Wipes?

By Dave Galvin, Hazardous Waste Program Manager at the King County Local Hazardous Waste Management Program

To flush or not to flush? This is a question many of us have faced over the years. Those who live with on-site septic systems are particularly sensitive to the quandary of what goes down the drain. Anything other than human waste and toilet paper (that is specifically made to break apart almost immediately) should be kept out of such systems, especially if there are small pumps involved along the way, which can easily clog. After you’ve had to clean a clogged pump or pipe by hand, your sensitivity to such matters goes up exponentially.

flLarge municipal wastewater systems, it turns out, have similar concerns. Items that don’t break down quickly do not belong in the sewer. Many such items end up jamming even industrial-scale pumps and other machinery, costing millions of dollars each year in the US for repairs. Other material, including small plastics and latex, don’t decompose in the normal sewage treatment process and end up contaminating the leftover solids, which, in many locales, are beneficially reused as a soil amendment known as a biosolid. This is analogous to finding plastic fruit stickers and bags in the municipal compost — “hard to handle” end-of-life management.

Some consumer products are labeled as “flushable,” but are they really? Items such as baby wipes and skin cleaners, paper towels, feminine care products, condoms, diapers, and even dental floss, are usually not designed to break apart immediately and are thus not intended to be flushed. Some wipes are marketed as “flushable” while others as “disposable”; they are made by the nonwoven fabric industry and are supposed to meet certain voluntary guidelines developed by this industry.

A group of wastewater and water quality associations is meeting with representatives of the nonwoven fabric industry (via a trade association known as the International Nonwovens and Disposables Association) to explore a “product stewardship approach.” What, you ask? Take-back of leftover wipes? No, let’s not go there. Instead, they have agreed to discuss the challenges that the wastewater agencies face and to tighten the requirements spelled out in the current Guidance Document for Assessing the Flushability of Nonwoven Disposable Products (third edition). A fourth edition is currently in the works.

Here is an instance where the product stewardship dialogue actually addresses design standards! How do you set criteria for flushability such that the product truly breaks down in ways that are compatible with on-site and municipal wastewater systems? How do you ensure that these products are truly acceptable to flush, that they are “biological nutrients” in McDonough and Braungart’s Cradle-to-Cradle sense? How do you establish clear and meaningful labeling and marketing standards for what is flushable and what is not? Interesting questions indeed, and a dialogue sure to blaze new territory in the product stewardship universe.

This discourse illustrates an expanded definition of product stewardship, one that covers the full lifecycle, including design and labeling decisions that affect end-of-life disposition. Who knows – maybe Scott Cassel should be invited to the “World of Wipes” international conference to expand the idea of what it means to affect sustainable product stewardship.

“Hard to handle” takes on new meaning where upstream meets downstream.

Dave Galvin is a 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 was previously the president of the Product Stewardship Institute’s Board of Directors. For additional information, Dave can be reached at Dave.Galvin@kingcounty.gov.

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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@productstewardship.us

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?”. 

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