Author Archives: Scott Cassel

Why PSI Opposes State Bans on Local Bans

By Scott Cassel, Chief Executive Officer and Founder, Product Stewardship Institute

The Product Stewardship Institute recently passed a policy statement opposing state legislation that preempts local government action to regulate products and packaging. The policy is intended to help defend local government rights to take action to protect the environment. Here’s why we did it.

ban on plastic bansTraditionally, recycling and solid waste management in the U.S. are considered local government responsibilities. Since local governments are responsible for managing waste, they should also have the authority to implement policies that support their local priorities.

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a conservative think tank with close to 300 corporations and private foundation members, as well as hundreds of state officials, thinks otherwise. ALEC is pushing legislation in states around the U.S. to restrict local governments from banning “auxiliary containers,” including plastic bags, bottles, cups, and polystyrene to-go boxes – bans that would directly cut into manufacturers’ profits, but also reduce external costs on governments, recycling facilities, and the environment. So far, ALEC’s model legislation, or derivations of it, has passed in Arizona, Wisconsin, Indiana, Idaho, and Missouri and has been introduced in another three states (TX, MI, and GA).

ALEC and its members see local bans as unnecessary restrictions on the free market and consumer choice, but local governments have focused on plastic bags and polystyrene for good reason. These products are often used in take-out food service settings and are disposed outside of the home. The materials are lightweight and easily transported by air or water, adding to the global marine pollution crisis. Plastic bags and polystyrene are recyclable, but neither can be collected at the curb with bottles and cans. Plastic bags are typically considered contaminants in material recovery facilities because they get caught in sorting machinery, costing time and money. All in all, these products wreak economic and environmental havoc the moment they leave a retail establishment.

PSI strongly advocates for the right of local governments to enact laws and rules that ensure efficient and environmentally sound materials management. Even so, there are instances in which a well-conceived statewide program is preferable to multiple local regulations. But that trade off – giving up local authority in exchange for statewide action – should not be taken lightly and should be a decision left to local governments. Local autonomy should only be sacrificed for good reason and with proper cause.

In the case of the ALEC bill and its derivatives, local governments are not being asked to forgo bans in favor of a statewide policy or program to resolve issues with these materials. They’re simply being told they can’t take action to reduce the waste they are obligated to manage and pay for. Policy tools are being stripped from the local government tool box, yet the responsibility on local governments is not relieved. As a result, the manufacturers of these problem products can continue to sell single use items, and local governments have no choice but to foot the bill to manage them as waste and litter.

If producers want to avoid bans, they should step up and offer viable solutions for managing these products, or at least commit to working with governments to find them – at either the state or local level. Restricting governments’ ability to act, while offering no viable alternative, only ensures that these products and packaging will yield profits, while our local economies and environment pay the price.

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What’s Trending in Product Stewardship? An Interview with Scott Cassel

Adapted from a Waste360 interview with Scott Cassel
Originally published on January 20, 2016 by Allan Gerlat, Editor, Waste360

Waste360: At the PSI forum, pharmaceutical take-back efforts were a big topic. What’s happening there?

HeapOfColorfulPillsScott Cassel: We’ve been working on the pharmaceuticals issue for about 10 years. One thing has stayed the same: the industry is still not keen on collecting leftover medications. But a new trend has gathered steam. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the Alameda County (California) case in May 2015, leaving in place an ordinance requiring the pharmaceutical industry to set up and pay for take-backs. That’s a fundamental game changer. Alameda County—and any other U.S. jurisdiction—can require the pharmaceutical industry to set up and pay for pharmaceutical take-back programs. This was a key signal to local and state government agencies around the country. We’re seeing more interest now.

And there are interests here well beyond the environmental. There’s been an increase in drug abuse—in fatalities and addiction. Federal agencies, most state agencies, and the public health community recognize that getting old medications out of the home and safely disposed of is a key drug abuse prevention strategy. That requires funding. And as we know, the best way to fund this is through producer responsibility programs.

We’ve seen more pharmaceutical take-back programs funded by government agencies—and in some cases, by retailers. But the trend now is toward a fundamental change: including the cost of the take-back in the medication purchase price. That will be the paradigm shift.

Waste360: Producer responsibility for packaging has made progress in Canada and Belgium, for example. What are the challenges in the U.S.?

iStock_000008997155XSmallScott Cassel: Like with pharmaceuticals, the brand owners have not been keen on collecting and paying for recycling the packaging they put in the marketplace. They have opposed EPR (extended producer responsibility) legislation; they have even thwarted efforts to have a reasoned discussion. I think that there’s more interest now from company leaders to have that discussion.

PSI has been working on packaging stewardship for the past 10 years, and for the first time at the conference I heard voices from stewardship organizations implementing EPR for packaging in Europe, Canada, and other countries, encouraging similar systems for the U.S. U.S. companies sell in a global marketplace. Other countries are now speaking out, providing the results of their programs, which are much more impressive than in the U.S.

The recycling markets are down, so as local governments renew and renegotiate their recycling contracts, they face higher costs. As a result, governments will put greater pressure on manufacturers to move toward different recycling systems that will alleviate that cost burden. That, in turn—as we see in other countries—will influence packaging design to be much more sustainable.

I foresee, over the next year, what I hope will be a productive, healthy discussion among all stakeholders. I hope a few leaders among the U.S. recycling/waste management community, and among U.S. brand owners, will engage in discussions to really understand global packaging EPR systems, express their concerns about such systems in the U.S., and honestly engage on how to move toward more sustainable packaging solutions here.

We’re at a competitive disadvantage here because we’re the only OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) country without packaging EPR. Other OECD country programs are funded through EPR schemes, which all provide investment in the recycling system. That’s what is needed in the U.S.

Two initiatives emerged over the past year, the Closed Loop Fund and the Recycling Partnership – both voluntary. They received a lot of criticism at PSI’s recent national conference (not from us, but from brand owners and stewardship organizations operating in other countries) that those efforts were too little, too weak. It’s a step forward that companies have joined in voluntary stewardship efforts. They came in response to encouragement and pressure from groups like ours, and others in this political sphere.

Waste360: What other trends and challenges in product stewardship do you see on the near horizon?

9D482CE663Scott Cassel: Pharmaceuticals, packaging, and household hazardous waste are still in the early stages. But electronics was one of the first products we focused on at our inaugural conference in 2000. Over 20 states came and electronics was their number one issue. We now have 26 U.S. electronics laws; 24 are EPR laws.

PSI is now analyzing state electronics legislation and coming up with best practices, including key elements of laws that perform best, and models we’re sharing with those 20-odd states that don’t have laws, or have very weak laws. We know what those programs need, and are working to fix and adjust them. We also understand the scrap recycling markets have changed. It’s a difficult time for electronics across the U.S. The CRT (cathode ray tube) markets have driven costs higher for local governments and recyclers, and the markets for all electronics have been depressed. We’re spending quite a lot of time on this, at the request of our state and local government members and our recycling partners. There’s still reluctance among the electronics manufacturers to engage as a group, but we’re seeing that there are individuals from certain companies that we can work with, and we hope to build on that.

Waste360: Discuss the connection between climate change and recycling, and how producer responsibility fits in.

Staples' Mark Buckley delivers the opening keynote presentation on the circular economy at the 2015 U.S. Product Stewardship Forum.

Staples’ Mark Buckley delivers the opening keynote presentation on the circular economy at the 2015 U.S. Product Stewardship Forum.

Scott Cassel: Product stewardship and EPR are core elements to protect and conserve resources. We’re depleting our natural resources at an exceedingly high rate. The mining, manufacturing, use, and disposal—end-of-life management—of products contributes, according to the EPA, 29% of greenhouse gas emissions. So product management and materials management can significantly reduce impacts on climate change.

Our work ties into the need to be more sustainable and the emerging concept of the circular economy. We need to pay close attention to the upstream impact of consumption, which starts when a company conceives of a product and extends to the end after a consumer is done using it—an entire lifecycle, from cradle to cradle. We believe the company is responsible for managing that product throughout. We want that material returned back into commerce—the concept of the ‘circular economy.’ There is money to be made from these materials. So while we’re reducing resource depletion, we’re also creating value. That’s a significant trend I see: that our work in product stewardship and EPR will be understood as part of something much greater.

Learn more about PSI’s work by visiting our website. Please feel free to contact Scott Cassel, PSI’s CEO and founder, with any questions at (617) 236-4822. 

Putting the “Green” in Walgreens

By Scott Cassel, Chief Executive Officer and Founder, Product Stewardship Institute

pharmaceutical-take-backThis week an announcement rocked the pharmaceutical take-back community. Walgreens will set up collection kiosks at 500 stores in 39 states to accept controlled and non-controlled prescription drugs.

In one instant, a decade of advocacy work was rewarded as a principal player stepped forward to help alleviate drug abuse and accidental poisonings in America. In this one move, Walgreens validated those of us who have long promoted take-back as the safest way to manage leftover drugs and remove a health risk from our homes.

It was a long road to this point. It all started for a reason we should not forget – concern over how pharmaceuticals impact water quality and aquatic organisms. The U.S. Geological Survey brought our attention to this issue in 2002 by reporting the prevalence of pharmaceutical compounds in waterways. Studies and photos of aquatic impacts – male fish with female characteristics, infertility in aquatic species, and related environmental concerns – incited our interest in finding a solution.

But it quickly became clear that the nation’s drug abuse issue would drive a solution. When King Pharmaceuticals, an opioid manufacturer, funded PSI’s pharmaceuticals take-back website, along with one of our 2008 national dialogue meetings, we knew we were on the right track. At that meeting, we reached stakeholder consensus: the federal Controlled Substances Act needed to be changed. This law limited the collection of controlled substances to locations where law enforcement staff were present – a costly, impractical, and inconvenient constraint.

In order to change the law, we needed to reach a strong agreement among government agencies, reverse distributors, and other stakeholders on two specific points: how we defined the problem and what specific language we recommended to change the law. We met with the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the Department of Transportation, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the Food and Drug Administration to solidify a unified message, and wrote testimony that synthesized concerns and recommendations. In 2010, the Secure and Responsible Drug Disposal Act was enacted.

But that was only the first step. From there, PSI held multiple stakeholder calls and meetings to provide input into implementing the DEA regulations that would eventually put the new law into action. When DEA finally released its final rule in late 2014, some stakeholders remained skeptical. They questioned whether the rule went far enough, if it created unintended loopholes, and why pharmacies didn’t jump in to start collecting soon after the rule was announced. PSI, therefore, set out to find pioneering pharmacists who were collecting controlled substances under the new rule, like Monty Scheele of Four Star Drug in Nebraska, who enthusiastically explained on one of our national webinars how easy it is to collect old drugs and how beneficial it is for business.

Obviously, Walgreens was listening to pharmacists like Monty Scheele. They responded to the drum beat of requests from an ever-expanding group of take-back advocates, as well as ONDCP and DEA, who made it clear that pharmacy collection was a main goal all along when they changed the regulations.

A decade ago, King County, Washington started an epic pilot program for non-controlled substances at Bartell Drugs, a pharmacy in Seattle. Dave Galvin, one of the County’s pilot program leaders, always said: “Most people don’t go to their police station voluntarily, but they do go to the neighborhood pharmacy.”

It’s been a long journey, one that took perseverance and hope. But simple truths are hard to keep submerged. Customers are neighbors, and they will stay loyal to your pharmacy if you help alleviate a pressing community problem.

It was only a matter of time until a major initiative like this one was bound to occur. A decade isn’t so long, after all.

Learn more about PSI’s work on pharmaceuticals by visiting our website. Please feel free to contact Vivian Futran Fuhrman, PSI’s pharmaceuticals lead, with comments and questions (617-236-4771). 

Best Buy Bids Farewell to Free TV & Computer Recycling – Further Sign of Trouble for U.S. E-Scrap Recovery

By Scott Cassel, Chief Executive Officer and Founder, Product Stewardship Institute

electronics-recyclingBest Buy’s recent announcement that it will start charging $25 to recycle each TV and computer monitor indicates that the already stressed U.S. electronics collection infrastructure has gotten worse.

We can hardly blame Best Buy or any other collector that stepped up to make recycling easier for consumers. Back in 2004, when not a single retailer was collecting electronics equipment, the Product Stewardship Institute (PSI) teamed with Staples and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to start the first computer take-back program in the country. Five years later, motivated by state extended producer responsibility (EPR) laws, Best Buy took Staples’ computer-only program a big step further to collect both computers and TVs, becoming one of the most convenient locations for consumers to return their used electronic equipment nationwide.

But times have changed. Costs increased, electronics recycling programs became more robust, and vast quantities of higher cost e-scrap are now being collected – changes that have revealed a lack of commitment from most electronics manufacturers to assume responsibility for collecting and recycling used electronics.

With its recent announcement, Best Buy stated that it “should not be the sole e-cycling provider in any given area, nor should we assume the entire cost.” To be sure, some manufacturers did voluntarily step up to fill the infrastructure void over the past decade. In 2004, Dell, in partnership with Goodwill, and HP announced free nationwide electronics take-back programs. Samsung and LG followed suit in 2008. Unfortunately, these programs were limited, leaving Best Buy’s program to cover the brunt of the cost.

Isn’t it ironic? For the past 15 years, collectively, we successfully educated our citizens about the dangers of mismanaging electronics – about youth using acids to burn off toxic metals in countries without adequate environmental and health protection; about the millions of tons of resources that are buried or burned when not recycled, and which must be mined again, creating double the environmental impact; about the lost recycling jobs that are desperately needed by working families; and about the hundreds of millions of dollars that taxpayers and governments must pay to manage the waste from a multi-billion dollar industry.

We all thought we were on the right track, with EPR laws passed in half the U.S. states, some passed with manufacturer support. Resources were conserved, jobs created, and money saved. The public truly caught on – and genuinely appreciated our programs.

But those darn markets had to spoil everything. Well-meaning citizens who today know to “do the right thing” are now effectively being told by manufacturers that they don’t really want them to recycle so much after all. The message the manufacturers convey is that recycling is good, but it should slow down. Or someone else needs to pay for it.

Recyclers, local governments, and a few retailers are doing their part to collect and divert massive quantities of valuable commodities from disposal. But many manufacturers are no longer willing to cover the costs associated with the proper management of their products at end of life. Recyclers must choose between losing money indefinitely, significantly cutting costs, or going out of business. Local governments, whose residents rely on them for trash and recycling services, are now faced with increased electronics recycling costs – costs they didn’t budget for.  Before, government officials directed residents to Best Buy as a convenient alternative to recycle electronics. What will they tell their residents now?

Best Buy stands out for its importance in the electronics collection infrastructure in the US. They collect more than any other manufacturer-sponsored program, providing a convenience to consumers unsurpassed by other locations. Even in states with EPR laws, which were intended to hold all brand owners responsible for recycling the electronics they produce, Best Buy has borne more than its fair share of recycling costs, consistently collecting far more material than was required. For example, in 2014, Best Buy recycled more than three times the amount of e-scrap it was obligated to collect in Illinois; more than 4 times its obligation in Wisconsin; and in Minnesota, company officials report that they collect one-quarter to one-third of all electronics recycled in the state – well beyond its market share.

One thing is clear – it’s time to revisit the nation’s 25 state e-scrap laws to ensure that all manufacturers are equally responsible for electronics recycling. PSI and our state and local government members understand the complexities and variations in programs nationally, and are working to find fair solutions for all. Since the first electronics recycling law passed in 2004, the dialogue has drifted away from manufacturers taking full responsibility and internalizing the costs of end-of-life materials management. Instead, arguments revolve around how high targets should be, how much manufacturers should pay, and what products they should cover. Past voluntary and legislatively supported commitments made by manufacturers have eroded. They resist attempts to incorporate recycling costs into product price, and instead want to pass these costs on to someone else.

Best Buy’s original program is what we need more of in the US – national, no cost, hassle-free product take-back. Their industry colleagues need to match that commitment; Best Buy can no longer be expected to go it alone.

To PSI, Best Buy’s move represents a call to action. Let’s work to improve these programs so they support responsible actors like Best Buy, raise expectations of other manufacturers, and meet increasing demand for consumer electronics recycling.

Learn more about PSI’s electronics work by visiting our website. Please feel free to contact Waneta Trabert, PSI’s electronics lead, with comments and questions (617-236-4866). 

About Those ‘8 Points About PSI’

By Scott Cassel, Chief Executive Officer & Founder, Product Stewardship Institute

mobile-phone-1425375-1600x1200In Waste360’s “Eight Points about PSI’s Phone Directory Sustainability Report,” the National Waste & Recycling Association’s (NWRA’s) Chaz Miller denounces PSI’s latest Sustainability Report Card for Telephone Directory Publishers as not making a “convincing case that [yellow pages phone books] are causing a problem.”

Well, we’re pretty convinced there’s a problem – in both accountability and sustainability.

Here’s why:

Miller states, “clearly you need some real data on the amount of directories and what the recovery rate is…”

The data the Local Search Association (LSA) cites publicly – a 67% recycling rate – combines many types of printed paper including newspaper recycling, making it impossible to understand where phone books lie. The last time the U.S. EPA measured the recycling rate of telephone directories alone (in 2009), the rate was 37%. We would love to find out the current recovery rate of telephone directories, and acknowledge any improvement.

The lack of publicly available data also paints a picture – publishers are happy to greenwash the public with vague statements about using sustainable paper, but unwilling to give the real data to back up their claims, despite PSI’s multiple requests for information.

In making use of what data is available, PSI found that only 23% of major publishers use paper from “sustainably managed forests” (and none identify a specific certification program); 15% offer support for recycling infrastructure; and only 31% of publishers specify the percentage of recycled content paper used in their books.

Miller states, regarding directories, “They’re absolutely invaluable for the white paper aspect… they’re trying to deliver information people can use. It’s a little imperious for PSI to say ‘it’s my way or the highway.’”

PSI believes that phone books do deliver information people can use, and by advocating for opt-in and opt-out programs, we seek to ensure that people who want phone books continue to receive them.

However, we also believe that all businesses have a responsibility to manage their products sustainably.

That is the goal of this report card: to shine light on those publishers following best practices in sustainability, and to encourage others to follow their lead. We have engaged with the industry in the past, holding a stakeholder meeting in 2008 and 2009. We’d like to do it again.

In short, we are more than happy to cooperate with the publishers to increase sustainability and transparency– if they are willing.

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A is for Accountability: First in the Phone Book?

phonebookwithfingers.pgBy Scott Cassel, Chief Executive Officer & Founder, Product Stewardship Institute

My father was a small businessman. He ran a four-person employment agency called Able Careers in Hackensack, New Jersey, and was proud of the jobs he got for his people. Each week, I watched him meticulously cut his advertisements out of the newspaper to make sure they were displayed correctly. And, of course, he was listed in the Yellow Pages. Able Careers was right at the top of the A column in the book under Employment Agencies.

That was then. When multiple phone books were stacked on everyone’s desk, and they were the bible for people, places, and things.

I don’t need to tell you that those days are over. But what has not stopped is the continuous printing and distribution of these books, which are often unwanted and not needed. Apparently, directory publishers have not found a way to match the advertising revenue over the internet that they make on printed directories. So they make them, and dump them on our doorsteps.

About ten years ago, PSI and our local and state government members educated the industry about how these books cost local governments about $60 million in management costs. Whether recycled or disposed, there is a cost to deal with phone books. And taxpayers pick up the tab for the industry. To their credit, and in response to PSI’s requests, the phone book industry developed an online system for residents to opt out of receiving the books. Unfortunately, PSI is still receiving citizen complaints. Only two publishers track opt out requests, and no one knows if they are being honored.

We asked the industry to discuss this with us. But, ever since they won a lawsuit against the City of Seattle, which wanted the industry to pay for developing its more robust opt out system a few years back, the industry association has shut down. They have stonewalled us.

In 2014, PSI decided to grade directory publishers on their sustainability efforts in three categories: opt out (including transparency); sustainable production (paper, ink); and recycling (education/financing). The Local Search Association (LSA) responded by not addressing any of the information in our report card, instead putting out a sustainability report that made unsubstantiated claims.

This year, we figured we would give the industry another chance to redeem themselves, and let them know we were again going to create a Sustainability Report Card to seek industry best practices on phone book sustainability.

Again, we were stonewalled. The response to our well researched report, delivered by Wesley Young of the LSA, was a flimsy infographic claiming that publishers reduced paper use over their lifetime and claiming an inflated recycling rate that they did not substantiate. Keep America Beautiful’s Brenda Pulley joined the LSA’s greenwashing efforts with a quote supporting them as a great partner (LSA funds KAB as a sponsor in the $5,000-$9,999 category).

Those of us in the environmental business know that there are entrenched interests, like directory publishers, who want to uphold the status quo and do not want outside forces, like PSI, meddling with their business. We are used to the climate change deniers, who would rather drown from melting icecaps than make decisions using sound data.

We expect this from dying industries like the LSA that cling to outdated ideas and fail to innovate. But what is their responsibility to you, the rest of America, which has to pay the price of phone books that are dumped on your doorstep?

Let’s face it, phone books are not the Number 1 environmental priority. I know that. They know that. But is this the way that industries should respond when presented with the fact that they are harming us? Why do we have to clean up their mess? And when we offer to help them, why are we met with greenwashing that evades the issues?

PSI has taken action. We have gathered the facts, which point to changes needed by publishers, even as some are following best practices. And we have presented them to you.

Now, what are you going to do about it?

Let Neg Norton at the LSA know what you think of his industry’s greenwashing. And while you’re at it, let Jennifer Jehn know that their funding from the LSA isn’t worth the harm it does to Keep America Beautiful’s reputation. Thank you.

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Greenwashing the Yellow Pages

By Scott Cassel, Chief Executive Officer & Founder, Product Stewardship Institute

What did the Product Stewardship Institute (PSI) get when we attempted to work with the phone book industry?

Obstruction.

In our recent Sustainability Report Card, PSI applauded the phone book industry for taking steps forward in sustainability. We recognized publishers’ efforts to promote opt-out programs and highlighted their recycling initiatives. We also indicated key areas in which these publishers can improve, such as using recycled-content paper and contributing to recycling infrastructure. Our goal was to help industry to satisfy consumer demand for improved environmental practices.

FullSizeRenderYet the industry continues to reject our inquiries for more information so we can better understand and share the whole picture of what is happening with telephone directories. Rather than embracing transparency, the industry refuses opportunities to tell the full story, instead hiding behind a greenwashed sustainability report filled with vague statements.

In an effort to bring clarity to residents and advertisers, last year PSI published its first Sustainability Report Card evaluating six major yellow pages publishers. Only one of the six companies offered any information. Despite an unwillingness to cooperate, the industry was clearly irritated by poor grades that reflected their lack of transparency.

At PSI, we strive to collaborate with industry. Which is why we reached out, again, to Wesley Young, Vice President of Public Affairs at the Local Search Association (LSA), to get information that would help us put together our second report card.

Here is Wesley Young’s response:

Dear Scott,

Thanks for your email. This email is my personal opinion and I am not speaking on behalf of my members, but I respectfully decline your offer. Your use of data that is 6+ years old and continuing representation of it as the current state is misleading when many things have changed since then. And even that old data showed a trend of significant increases in the growth rate of directory recycling until the EPA stopped tracking them separately. Also, last year’s phone book report ignored industry sources and was based on a presumption of failure that demonstrates a bias against the industry. 

These are a couple of reasons why I am declining your offer. You are welcome to contact my members individually to see if they feel differently. 

Interestingly, even though Mr. Young stressed he wasn’t speaking on behalf of the LSA’s members, when we reached out to Sarah Wilson, Senior Staff Consultant at Dex Media, she responded using strikingly similar language. (She wrote to “respectfully decline,” citing PSI’s “use of outdated information” and “bias.”) Let me address their complaints point by point:

1) Charge: PSI used “data that is 6+ years old.”

Fact: There is a reason we use recycling numbers from 2009: this is the last year that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) separated the recycling rate of phone books from that of other printed paper. The recycling rate in 2009 was 36.9% for directories and 88.1% for newspapers. Today, the combined rate is 67.0% for those two groups, plus other mechanical papers. There is no way to determine if today’s combined rate demonstrates an increase in phone book recycling from 2009; yet this is just what the industry and Keep America Beautiful lead readers to believe in their 2014 report and recent infographic. We hope the industry will join us in pushing for more accurate data.

2) Charge: PSI’s first report card “ignored industry sources and was based on a presumption of failure.”

Fact: PSI actively sought out publisher contributions for both the first and second report cards. The majority of publishers refused to respond to our inquiries, and those who did referred us to the 2014 LSA Sustainability Report. Unfortunately, many claims in this report lack verification. For instance, the report states:

“One of our supplier members collaborates with customers to help minimize environmental impacts by forming associations with sustainable forestry initiatives and sourcing more sustainable inks.”

(Which forestry initiatives? What does it mean to “associate”? And what inks do they source?)

“One of our print members encourages the use of recycled and forest management certified papers to the greatest extent practicable.”

(What does “to the greatest extent practicable” mean? Is it 50%? Or 10%? Which forest management certifier are they using? Is it post or pre-consumer recycled paper?)

When we asked these questions, the LSA refused to comment.

3) Charge: PSI ignored the fact that EPA data showed “a trend of significant increases in the growth rate of directory recycling.”

Fact: PSI would love to commend directory publishers for an increased recycling rate. We’re looking for a success story. But the LSA has it wrong: the EPA’s cited recycling rate of printed paper has actually decreased since directories were looped into the combined number. That’s not to say that the phone book recycling rate didn’t increase. Due to the industry’s lack of cooperation, we simply don’t have the information to justify praise.

In fact, PSI recently sent a letter to the EPA requesting it calculate telephone directory generation and recovery separately than other printed paper to give a clearer understanding of the industry’s sustainability performance.

We would hope the industry – and recycling organizations like Keep America Beautiful – would refuse to settle for anything less. We know it’s what many of our hundreds of members want.

And, we know it’s what the public demands.

Lessons from an E-Scrap Workshop

By Scott Cassel, Chief Executive Officer & Founder, Product Stewardship Institute

Several weeks ago, I ventured out to Indianapolis for the Indiana Recycling Coalition Conference to give a presentation on product stewardship and extended producer responsibility. I then headed over to another area of the conference center to participate in a panel as part of Indiana’s first E-cycle stakeholder meeting. In a room filled with dedicated solid waste managers, recyclers, environmentalists, and government officials, we took a look at Indiana’s current e-scrap recycling law to identify successes, challenges, and potential solutions.

Photo courtesy of Denise Szocka

Scott Cassel, Thom Davis, Katie Riley, and two representatives from Solid Waste Management Districts discuss the Indiana e-scrap recycling law. Photo courtesy of Denise Szocka.

Indiana’s electronics recycling law is an EPR law based on a “performance goal” system, meaning that manufacturers must collect a specific tonnage of e-scrap per year (i.e., their goal). In Indiana, manufacturers are responsible for collecting and recycling 60% of the total weight of video display devices that they sell. However, since the formula is based on sales of newer, light-weight electronics, and old bulky TVs are the heaviest and most common item collected, manufacturers reach their performance goals very quickly.

This has become a problem. When manufacturers have collected enough to meet their goal, they cut off payment to recyclers. Recyclers then stop accepting material from collection sites, or charge these sites a fee to take the material.

Photo courtesy of Denise Szocka

Four workshop attendees work together to identify problems and solutions.
Photo courtesy of Denise Szocka.

Once the basic problems were understood by the participants at the Indiana e-scrap workshop, they explored possible solutions. The conversation in that room was eerily similar to the stakeholder meetings held in New York and Illinois. Now that we have worked so hard at educating residents about the need to recycle electronics, we certainly don’t want to tell them that we can’t take what they bring us.

In the Indiana workshop, one of the potential solutions – raising performance goals – was suggested. In fact, both Illinois and Minnesota have passed updates to their laws just this year (which go into effect July 1, 2015), setting the performance goal at a specific fixed tonnage rather than at a percentage of yearly sales.

For a long-term, stable solution, however, changes should be made to the program structure. E-scrap programs with the highest collection rates – such as programs in Vermont, Oregon, Washington, and Maine – require manufacturers to meet convenience-based standards to ensure that a majority of residents have easy access to a collection site.

The panel and workgroup discussions at the Indiana e-scrap workshop were a great start to improving Indiana’s e-scrap law. These fixes won’t be easy to apply, and each state is having their own state-based discussions. At the same time, the Product Stewardship Institute is holding our own conversations with e-scrap program managers around the country to better understand the common issues they face so that we can help to instill greater stability in existing programs, and offer states with no e-scrap laws a roadmap for the future. Working together, we can come up with viable solutions that we hope will be implemented in years to come.

 

To read more about the different types of e-scrap programs and their results, check out the recent article in E-Scrap News, “Struggling State-by-State,” by PSI’s Resa Dimino.

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A Professional Dumpster Diver Finds Trends in Trash

By Alisa Opar, Western Correspondent at Earthwire
*This post has been republished with permission from OnEarth, the magazine of the Natural Resources Defense Council, originally titled “The Professional Dumpster Diver”.

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When digging through hundreds of pounds of trash, it’s best to be on your guard. “There’s always the chance something will jump out at you,” says Jack Chappelle. Mice, rats, and raccoons have all burst forth from garbage heaps Chappelle that has waded through. “We’ve only had one or two snakes.”

While the last time you probably went rooting around in rubbish was back in your middle-school cafeteria (in search of a retainer), Chappelle undertakes this unsavory task for a living. A solid-waste expert with Kansas-based Engineering Solutions & Design, he dissects trash to determine what people are pitching in order to help stem the flow of refuse to landfills. Right now he’s wrapping up a project for five Nebraska communities that want to be able to send zero waste to landfills.

The United States has plenty of room to trim its waste. Every year Americans produce 251 million tons of trash. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, about 164 million tons end up in landfills or incinerators, where it spews greenhouse gases into the atmosphere as it breaks down or burns. Yard trimmings, food waste, paper, paperboard, and plastics comprise nearly 70 percent of this trash (the remainder is a mix of metal, textiles, wood, and other stuff). Recycling and composting have helped make a significant dent: In 2012, the practices diverted nearly 87 million tons of municipal solid waste, preventing the release of about 168 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent into the air—equal to pulling 33 million cars off the road for a year. Still, we could do better.

To find out how, towns and solid-waste management companies in Nebraska, Ohio, Missouri, and Kansas have hired Chappelle’s company to analyze their waste streams.

Chappelle approaches malodorous trash mounds like a geologist confronting a hunk of sedimentary rock. But instead of shells, pebbles, and coal seams, he’s picking out weedwackers, tater tots, tampons, and Chinese-food containers. On any given day, he’s at the landfill, waiting for a garbage truck to dump a load from a residential or commercial area. Then Chappelle makes his first move. He walks around the fresh—perhaps too fresh—delivery clockwise and then counterclockwise.

“Whether you’re inside or out, the light will hit the waste differently, and you’ll see different things from different angles,” he explains. Chappelle is looking for “seams,” or large quantities of one kind of waste, such as cardboard. He’ll also note large objects like lawn mowers that might skew the results but are still important to note.

Then his team will transfer about 300 pounds of trash to tables and separate it all into bins. “That’s about it,” says Chappelle. “It’s a relatively simple process, but it tells you a lot about a community.”

recycling_smlOnce everything is tallied, he sends his recommendations to his clients. Sometimes the town’s solid-waste managers are interested in building recycling operations and are looking for guidance on what kinds of facilities they’ll need. Most of the time, however, they want to understand exactly what people are getting rid of so they can launch targeted campaigns to encourage inhabitants to siphon specific goods out of the waste stream, such as by removing compostable foodstuffs or recyclable plastic milk jugs.

Doing the dirty deed over and over again has allowed Chappelle to get a sense of the varying trash habits of rural and urban communities. Those differences are largely food-based. Suburbanites and city dwellers tend to eat more processed foods (those mac-n-cheese boxes and McDonald’s bags give them away), chuck out less food waste overall (probably due to the use of sink garbage disposals), and have diets that incorporate more exotic fruits and vegetables.

In the nearly 15 years he’s been at it, Chappelle has seen trends both encouraging and disturbing. E-waste has dramatically dropped over the past decade (EPA stats back up his observation), as has the volume of newspapers and magazines (a sad fact, ahem, if you’re a journalist). The skyrocketing quantity of disposable adult diapers, on the other hand, Chappelle finds worrisome. “When we first started, in the early 2000s, diapers were exclusively the domain of babies,” he says. “Now it’s probably 50-50, but by weight, you’d need three or four really solid baby diapers to match one adult diaper.” Single-use nappies might be convenient, but they take 450 years to decompose.

On nearly early every project his company has undertaken, somebody—a community member or an employee of the client—has volunteered to pitch in as Chappelle’s crew sorts trash. “They want to see what is going on and help out,” he says. Chappelle is always happy for their interest, but notes that they tend to be more tenderfoot, less trash hound. Not one has lasted an entire day.

About the Author
Alisa Opar is Earthwire’s Western correspondent. She is also the articles editor at Audubon magazine, and has written for many publications about science and the environment.

What Big Pharma Can Learn From the Paint Industry

By Scott Cassel, Chief Executive Officer and Founder, Product Stewardship Institute

1028441_27922878It was one of those quiet moments of victory for environmentalists and public health advocates: In 2012, Alameda County’s Board of Supervisors unanimously adopted the nation’s first ordinance requiring pharmaceutical manufacturers to fund and manage a drug take-back program.

Millions of overprescribed, unused, and expired medications contribute to drug abuse, accidental poisonings, aquatic impacts, and water quality issues. The trash or drain is not a safe method for disposing drugs – which is why King County, Washington; San Mateo County, California; and San Francisco, California followed suit with similar ordinances.

Big Pharma, however, has spent the last three years fighting back in the courts, arguing that the Alameda law interferes with interstate commerce. After two lower court decisions cited no interstate commerce violation, Big Pharma took the case to the U.S. Supreme Court. The high court recently declined to hear the pharmaceutical industry’s case against the Alameda County Safe Drug Disposal Ordinance. Whether Big Pharma will continue to pursue its costly litigation strategy remains to be seen, but one thing is clear: if the industry instead chose to collaborate, it could help shape a long-term, cost-effective solution that protects all interests – economic, health, and environmental.

Drug take-back laws may be new, but laws requiring manufacturers to take responsibility for the safe disposal of their products are not. What’s more is that not all industries continuously push back and fight against such laws. Currently, there are 8 states (and the District of Columbia) that require the paint industry to fund and manage the recycling and safe disposal of leftover paint; all of these laws were developed in collaboration with the American Coatings Association (ACA), which represents over 95 percent of U.S. paint manufacturers.
867237_92898831First some background: Back in 2002, the Product Stewardship Institute (PSI) asked the paint industry to take responsibility for managing leftover household paint because, when poured down the drain or sent to landfills, leftover paint threatens aquatic ecosystems and wastes valuable resources. Managing paint wastes is typically the most costly part of municipal household hazardous waste programs as well. PSI estimated that it would cost paint manufacturers about $650 million each year to safely recycle or dispose of the estimated 75 million gallons of leftover paint generated yearly in the United States.

After initial reluctance, the paint industry agreed to meet with PSI and some of PSI’s state and local government members. After nearly a dozen meetings and multiple calls over four years, PSI and ACA reached an agreement in 2007 on a model state program that would be implemented nationwide. Since then, the nine aforementioned jurisdictions have used that model to adopt laws holding the paint industry responsible for collecting and properly managing all leftover paint in their area; similar bills are pending in another dozen states. As a result, 8 million gallons of paint have been diverted from disposal so far in the first five states in which the paint stewardship program has been implemented, saving local governments over $50 million in transportation and processing costs, according to paint industry estimates.

What can the pharmaceutical industry learn from this?

  1. Producer responsibility doesn’t hurt the bottom line. Since ACA’s PaintCare program was first adopted in Oregon in 2010, paint sales are still strong, retailers have the opportunity to offer a new service to their consumers, and paint recycling is on the rise. Through its PaintCare program, the paint industry has gotten out in front of the regulations, working with government to shape laws that fit with their business model. ACA representatives are regularly called upon to speak at state recycling conferences in sessions that highlight the industry’s successful demonstration of corporate sustainability and public-private collaboration. The lesson: an industry can take responsibility for its post-consumer products, and not only does it not hurt the bottom line – it often ends up benefitting them overall.
  1. Producer responsibility programs show immediate results. In just five years, the paint industry has made convenient paint take-backs available to at least 95% of residents in three states, and local governments have saved millions of dollars of taxpayer money. Unlike other recycling programs that funnel collected fees into a government fund and require significant government hours to manage (e.g., scrap tire laws), the paint stewardship program is largely run by the paint industry, alleviating the need for a large bureaucracy to handle day-to-day operations.
  1. Dialogue doesn’t mean a loss of control. It enables industry to shape policy that is effective and cost efficient. When PSI approached ACA with its request, the industry agreed to begin talks. What resulted was a national multi-stakeholder dialogue that led to joint research to answer key questions, such as “what will this program actually cost?” and “how will paint be collected and recycled?” From the beginning, ACA helped shape the program’s development; when the first bills were drafted, ACA was in the driver’s seat. The solution developed was an innovative funding model that worked for both industry and other stakeholders.

With the number of prescription drug overdoses rising annually, the risk posed by leftover medications raises the stakes, as well as the opportunity, for the pharmaceutical industry to take the lead and create convenient medicine take-back programs for U.S. residents. Such a program is within reach, and would cost the pharmaceutical industry roughly $3.51 per capita annually for the safe collection and disposal of pharmaceuticals, according to estimates from King County, WA. Similar programs have operated for years in Canada and at least a dozen European countries, taking the financial burden off of taxpayers.

This is clear: the pressure on the pharmaceutical industry isn’t going away. The path for industry-funded producer responsibility has been paved; with 88 producer responsibility laws operating in 33 states across the US for 12 different product categories, there is ample proof that take-back legislation can be implemented successfully. The pharmaceutical industry could be poised to become the next big success story – if it is willing.