Author Archives: Scott Cassel

Recycling Programs + Single-Use Plastics Policies Remain Impacted by Pandemic

By Brendan Adamczyk & Olivia Den Dulk

In June, PSI examined the initial impacts of COVID-19 on US recycling programs as municipalities suspended services and re-evaluated their budgets. Cities with recycling programs were struggling with the initial impacts of the pandemic. In Miami, FL residents were instructed to mix trash and recycling and in Los Angeles, CA recycling materials were diverted to the landfill. This summer, we continued monitoring the effects of the pandemic on recycling programs and found that while many recycling pick-up and drop-off services have reopened, other impacts continue to present serious challenges for recycling programs. Cities of various sizes across the country have continued to face two key difficulties: First, recycling programs contended with employee shortages as staff tested positive for the novel coronavirus, quarantined because of possible exposure, or stayed home due to the risk that the virus presented. Second, residents disposed of more trash and recycling while spending more time at home.

Philadelphia, PA and Baltimore, MD both exemplified this two-fold problem this summer. Philadelphia residents disposed of 30% more trash during the pandemic and sanitation crews struggled to keep up, especially as some employees tested positive and had to take time off from work. Residents complained of unsightly trash left on the curb for days, and in August some crews had to resort to mixing trash and recycling. Baltimore experienced a 20% increase in trash, and several employees either contracted the virus or quit because of the virus risk. The city was overwhelmed by these compounding problems and announced that recycling pick-up would be suspended for at least a month beginning on August 31.

While several municipalities have reopened their recycling services, PSI expects that COVID-19 will continue to cause employee shortages and increased volumes for months to come as cities face new outbreaks and manage them by implementing lockdowns and restrictions. Budgetary impacts on recycling programs have also persisted since the outbreak of the pandemic. Some cities proposed terminating their curbside recycling programs altogether. Others switched to bi-weekly services. Some municipalities stopped accepting materials, such as cardboard and some plastics. It is clear, and concerning, that these changes will have a lasting impact on programs across the country, particularly as local governments are still grappling with with the budgetary impacts of the 2018 China Sword Policy.

Plastics Policies Rolled Back

Beyond recycling programs, COVID-19 has also had a major impact on plastic pollution policy across the United States. Since March of this year, PSI has been monitoring these changes on the city, county, and state levels in our COVID-19 Impacts on U.S. Plastics Policy tracker, chronicling delayed legislation, lifted bag bans and fees, and bans on reusable bags, as well as impacts on bottle deposits, other single-use plastics (such as polystyrene takeout containers), and relevant major news coverage.

What we have found is troubling: at least 79 policies rolling back restrictions on single-use plastic bags and takeout containers or banning reusable bags were imposed between March and August 2020, spanning 22 states and the District of Columbia. As of September 1, 45 of these policies, or 57%, remain in effect, with more than a dozen guaranteed to extend through the beginning of 2021 – just one of the many policy impacts of COVID-19. The graphics below indicate the impact on plastic bags, the biggest category impacted by recent changes:

It’s clear from this data that a wide swatch of municipalities rescinded or delayed bans on plastic products, with some even banning reusable bags outright, all based on claims that plastic helped reduce exposure to COVID-19. This idea was promoted by the plastics industry in mid-March, when they urged the U.S. Health and Human Services Department to speak out against bans and in support of single-use plastics. However, research soon revealed turning to plastics was not the solution, as a June 2020 statement signed by more than 125 health experts from 18 countries urged retailers, governments, and consumers alike that reusables were just as safe as single-use-plastics. This is the most recent example in a long pattern of the plastic industry placing the burden of systemic problems on individuals and deflecting focus from plastic pollution instead of taking responsibility for their role in the plastic pollution crisis.

What EPR Can Do

While the problem is clear, what is the solution? PSI advocates for Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) legislation for packaging and paper products that holds producers accountable for their products by shifting the financial and management burden of recycling from taxpayers and local governments to the packaging producers themselves. Around the world, EPR for packaging has helped solid waste programs weather the economic uncertainties of the China National Sword as well as the COVID-19 crisis. For example, a study conducted by Eco-Entreprises Quebec found that in the areas in Canada where EPR has been implemented, curbside recycling experienced fewer disruptions than in provinces without EPR. Furthermore, recycling services in provinces with EPR were far more resilient to the effects of COVID-19 than programs in the United States, despite Canadian programs facing the same challenges as the U.S., including a 30% increase in residential trash volume and employee shortages.

In the United States, at least 10 states will be considering EPR for plastic and packaging products in the upcoming 2021 legislative session, while the Break Free from Plastic Pollution Act, introduced in February 2020 by Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) and Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-CA), would implement EPR for packaging and paper products on a national scale, along with a nationwide container deposit requirement, bans on certain single-use plastic products, a carryout bag fee, and standardized labeling for recycling and disposal.

As the nation continues to work through this crisis, we need to aim higher than the status quo – now is the time to adopt EPR legislation for packaging and paper products in the U.S. so that we can stabilize and improve our recycling programs and build their resiliency in the face of any challenges that may lie ahead.  

Tackling Food Service Waste, Pre- and Post-Pandemic

In 2018, PSI published a guide for restaurants and eateries on how to reduce food service waste. Working with four restaurants and many community members in Greenport, New York, we developed concrete tools and steps these businesses could take in order to reduce their use of single-use plastics and other forms of disposable service ware, thereby reducing the amount of marine debris washing up on Long Island’s beaches. The project was such a success that we wanted to do more. In 2019, we received funding from New York Sea Grant to update and expand our Restaurant Guide by working with a group of restaurants in Buffalo, NY.

While Buffalo is not a coastal community like Greenport, it does sit right on the shores of Lake Eerie and is famously connected to Lake Ontario via Niagara Falls. Aquatic debris is common in the Great Lakes, and we were excited to join together with the Buffalo community to tackle the issue upstream. We started by partnering with restaurants, as well as Eerie and Niagara Counties, the City of Buffalo, the Visit Buffalo Niagara center, and local environmental advocates at Citizens’ Campaign for the Environment. Our aim was to develop customized plastic source reduction plans for all of our participating restaurants using the tools we had developed in Greenport, and to expand upon these existing tools with tailor-made materials that businesses could use to inform their customers about the changes they were making.

Unfortunately, our project did not quite go as planned. Early in 2020, the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 became a global pandemic and businesses across the U.S. were forced to shut down. All of our participating restaurants in Buffalo were impacted, either closing temporarily or switching to take-out-only business models. Sadly, the switch to take-out required them to use a lot of disposable service ware. As we checked in with our Buffalo partners, our conversations with them about their switch to take-out got us thinking… How could we best support them moving forward to ensure they could remain open and serving their customers safely while operating in a completely new – and much more disposable – world? Thanks to quick responses from NY Sea Grant and the project’s advisory committee, we were able to pivot our work to focus on the impacts of COVID-19 on restaurant waste, focusing our attention on creating resources for our partner restaurants and the broader Buffalo community.

We are proud to present our updated Guide for Restaurants and Eateries: 5 Easy Steps to Reduce Plastic and Benefit your Business. The Guide and accompanying web hub are complete with helpful tips for reducing plastic waste while operating as a take-out/delivery business, and models for safe, sustainable waste reduction in a post-COVID landscape.

Here’s a shout-out to the amazing restaurants we worked with for this project:

  • Bob Syracuse, owner of the Pizza Plant Italian Pub in Buffalo and Williamsville, was the very first restaurant to partner with us. Bob is not only dedicated to sustainability in food service – which was clear through his participation in the project’s advisory committee – he also serves on the Western New York Chapter of the New York State Restaurants Association. Bob was a true leader on this project.
  • Years ago, owner Ellie Grenauer of Williamsville’s Glen Park Tavern started the Williamsville farmers market with a friend, creating the ideal source for local produce for her restaurant all summer long. After pledging to reduce the restaurant’s plastic footprint with us, Ellie also eliminated plastic bags and switched to compostable straws.
  • At the Parkside Meadow restaurant in Buffalo, proprietor Nancy Abramo already recycled cardboard – and lots of it – as well as all wine and liquor bottles. She also used sugarcane-based clamshells for to-go orders placed over the phone and experimented with switching to paper straws. Because paper straws can be pricey, she ultimately told her servers not to provide them unless requested, which elicited a largely positive response from patrons.
  • Angelo Ashker, owner of Ashker’s, had implemented a progrm for customers wishing to avoid disposable take-out items. His popular bottle trade program gave customers a glass bottle with a lid for juices or iced coffees – and even snacks like overnight oats and hummus – which they could return for a trade value on their next purchase. On double-value days, customers would receive even deeper discounts for returning their jars. For in-house dining, nearly everything at Ashker’s was reusable. Angelo was not pleased to be using plastic products for to-go orders outside of the bottle trade program and was in the midst of launching a deposit-based system for reusable take-out containers before the pandemic. Angelo’s vision is to partner with other local restaurants to create a network of pick-up and return locations for reusable take-out containers throughout Buffalo, casting a wider net for eco-minded customers and further reducing the community’s plastic footprint.
  • The Dapper Goose in Buffalo had already eliminated nearly every single-use item before connecting with us and was actively looking into its last target: straws. 

Safe Operations Key to Product Take-Back Programs

While trash and recycling collection are considered essential services during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, product take-backs often aren’t included under that umbrella. Unfortunately, interrupted take-back programs mean higher risks for public health and the environment, as people store or even improperly dispose of hazardous materials. Suspending take-back programs also means revenue and job losses in the case of paint, mattresses, carpets, electronics, and other materials that provide valuable feedstock to recyclers.

PSI wants to get people back to work while protecting worker and public health, by sharing collection and processing best practices, so we’re asking you to respond to a quick survey to help us identify program impacts from COVID-19, major trends, and best practices. As nationwide restrictions are relaxed over time, states will open up at different times and will need guidelines for safely getting back to work.

Recycling: Every Airman must do their partPSI has already learned, for example, that electronics recyclers are experiencing a significant reduction in incoming volumes of material (reported to be as low as 30% of normal levels). Many recyclers are being forced to lay off staff given low material supply from residences, retail stores that serve as collection sites, and nonprofits like Goodwill. Recyclers are adjusting their business practices to include social distancing, staggering shifts, and the use of personal protection equipment. Some are also making the collection process contactless and letting incoming material sit for 24 hours before processing.

The Mattress Recycling Council, which says that it has “activated plans to continue operations and limit service disruptions while also keeping health best practices,” has posted COVID-related guidelines for transporters, collectors, recyclers, and retailers. Members of the International Paint Recycling Association, which PSI helped create, have adopted similar practices to protect their workers while still producing recycled paint. Chittenden County, VT is working on new procedures to re-open its household hazardous waste (HHW) facility, including using a scheduling app to ensure residents can safely drop off materials. As restrictions begin to lift, more communities (like Kane County, IL) are developing “return to service” guidelines to restart collections. PaintCare is advising consumers who are planning to drop off paint for recycling to contact drop-off sites in advance and asking them to follow CDC guidelines to protect themselves and others, and is rescheduling drop-off events planned through June.

face-mask-5067668_1920Safely resuming collections is imperative, as COVID-19 has left us at home, where many people have cleaned out closets, bathrooms, and sheds, revealing leftover and unwanted paint, medications, and HHW. In a sign of the times, US EPA is even stressing the importance of properly disposing of PPE. Our current circumstances could lead to greater demand for take-back across products, as well as increased awareness about product stewardship programs.

With social distancing and other safety measures in place for the foreseeable future, new practices that safely continue take-back programs are vital. PSI will also be working with state product stewardship councils across the country to learn how states are handling impacts of the virus.  If you have questions or information to share, please contact Rachel Perlman, PSI Senior Associate.

Who is PSI?

This question is one we continually challenge ourselves to answer so that we stay on the cutting edge of the U.S. product stewardship movement. As we embark on a new decade full of opportunity for EPR, we want to ensure that the research, projects, legislative models and laws that we craft continue to be relevant.

PSI reflects the strength of the individuals and entities who embody the movement. While we have evolved, we stay close to our inner core. We bring together multiple parties with diverse interests to develop comprehensive plans to solve big waste management challenges. We are problem-solvers who base our policy recommendations on sound science, experience, and peer review. We advocate for product stewardship solutions that are shaped by our long list of members and partners. We are systems thinkers who dissect problems and craft solutions from various angles – environmental, economic, technological, political, and communication with the public. We understand the big picture context as well as the individual parts of resource consumption problems. Above all, we have maintained an ethic of credibility and personal responsibility while leading the U.S. product stewardship movement for the past 20 years.

Members of the PSI team and the International Paint Recycling Association (IPRA) together at the 2019 North American Hazardous Materials Management Association Conference.

Like all movements, ours would not have taken hold without the energy, skills, and advocacy of thousands of people, including those government officials in the northwest – Oregon and Washington – who were the early pioneers. The success we have jointly achieved has required policy innovators in state and local governments who risked agency rebuke to forge beyond the status quo. It took corporate talent who leveraged their social capital to look beyond pure profit to engage with others. And it took environmental activists who could share an agenda with other players to achieve joint goals.

A panel at the 2018 U.S. Product Stewardship Conference

At PSI’s inaugural conference in December 2000, more than 100 state and local government officials from 20 states came to Boston to learn about a new concept for holding product manufacturers responsible for financing and managing post-consumer products. That meeting sparked a national movement.

Today, 119 EPR laws have been passed in 33 states on 14 products, and 2019 was a banner year for the U.S. product stewardship movement. A record 50 EPR bills were introduced in 16 state legislatures across the country. Of those bills, 12 passed into law, one committed a legislature to introducing a bill in 2020, and four mandated studies that include EPR as the central solution.

2020 promises to be a critical year for the movement. Packaging bills will be introduced or discussed in at least eight states, and EPR bills on pharmaceuticals, paint, carpet, mattresses, artificial turf, and batteries are already being actively debated. And PSI is right in the middle of it all. We now look forward to the future with renewed passion for progress.

On September 8-10, in Portland, Oregon, PSI will celebrate our 20th Anniversary at the national U.S. Product Stewardship Forum. We are already hearing from colleagues who plan to attend from across the U.S., as well as from Germany, France, England, and Chile. We will acknowledge our roots, assess the growing U.S. and global EPR movements, and plan for the next 20 years of growth. We hope to see you there.

 

A Letter from Dave Galvin, PSI President Emeritus: What PSI means to the Product Stewardship Movement

by Dave Galvin,

President Emeritus, Product Stewardship Institute
First President, North American Hazardous Materials Management Association
Formerly with King County Local Hazardous Waste Program, WA

One of my grounding work philosophies was to innovate locally while coordinating nationally and even internationally (“think global, act local” we were told in the 1970s) for all of my 40 years working for Seattle Metro and King County.  We can learn from each other, but we have to be willing to innovate locally with a grounded view as to what is going on nationally and internationally, and how we can both learn from others and influence others.  I spent my career following those principals:  work locally to do the best job we could while coordinating nationally to learn from others and to influence others to keep us all moving in the right direction.  This yin-yang approach is, I believe, key to innovation and positive change at the local government level.

It was critically important for me to have a group such as PSI in order to learn from others around the country and beyond as well as to influence national policy direction.  Local governments can’t do these big policy lifts alone, they need coordinated help from others around the country and even beyond, such as the European Union.  Yet local governments have the flexibility to enact innovative polities that are more difficult to enact up the food chain.

PSI serves as the unique organization made up of state and local governments that helps us at the local and state levels to do the best we can with progressive policy issues related to product stewardship while coordinating nationally and internationally for the best results.  It is actually a conservative approach:  let local governments and states innovate, then learn from these models to develop national policy.

PSI is a model for positive policy development related to solid waste management, recycling and product stewardship initiatives.  We need to invest in PSI in order to keep the momentum for positive change:  to maximize recycling, and to shift the paradigm so that producers of waste are expected to pay for and run take-back systems for the wastes their products produce, from packaging to the end-of-life products themselves.  We need to keep pushing for these universal, global, ecological concepts as we deal with day-to-day politics.

I have enjoyed my 3+ decades of association with Scott Cassel and PSI, including serving as PSI board President for more than ten years.  PSI is the KEY organization that can integrate what we have learned over the past 40+ years, assess the current climate nationally and internationally, and lead progressive policy initiatives within receptive states and nationally as politics allow.

Please support and participate in PSI’s programs.  If we wish to fully address climate change, we need to address how we deal with wastes.  The sooner we can achieve a one-to-one take back system such as advocated by McDonough and Braungart’s classic tome from 2002, “Cradle to Cradle,” the better.  We need to do better than today’s reality.  We need to reach for the sky, for what will actually result in a sustainable future.

The Product Stewardship Institute has served as a compass for the past 20 years regarding a sustainable model for product design and waste management.  Let’s continue to push for this ideal in order to generate enough initiative locally and with states to influence the national and world view.  Product manufacturers need to take full responsibility for the life cycle of their outputs, including taking back and re-manufacturing end-of-life products they sell.  The sooner we can move to this conservative paradigm, the better!

Thanks for your support of PSI and its initiatives.  The more we can advocate for full product stewardship, the more our environment will benefit locally as well as across this fragile globe.

Tribute to Harold Siegel – PSI Advisory Council Member

Harold_Siegel_Profile_Imageby Scott Cassel

Harold Siegel was my favorite conservative. He was also a PSI Advisory Council member…my brother’s father-in-law, and my friend.

Harold passed away at age 89 on March 20 in New York City. He was still working at Excelsior Graphics, the business he built to prosperity. Harold was a Patriotic lover of this country, a great pool player, and someone who always listened to the other side.

We bonded one night years ago after seeing his grandson, my nephew, perform at a college play. At a bar that night over beers, we discussed the need to take action to protect the environment. I learned he was an environmentalist, believing companies should take responsibility for reducing the impacts of the products they put on the market.

Contrary to many conservatives, Harold saw no contradiction in a free market operating under needed regulation, which levels the playing field for all competitors. He gave me advice on how to frame issues so conservatives could support extended producer responsibility laws. I can’t say those strategies always worked, but many people don’t see the world as Harold did.

The last time I spoke to Harold was at his granddaughter’s (my niece’s) wedding only a few weeks ago. He was in the hospital for the week leading up to the wedding, but rallied to be present at the big day. At the brunch the next day, he recounted what PSI was doing from the recent newsletter he read. He read them all, and remembered what he read.

We were very different people. But in his decency, Harold engaged with me and others whose views were different. Through those conversations, we found important issues on which we agreed, and we built a strong relationship around environmental issues, which only strengthened our family ties.

My favorite book as a kid was Harold and the Purple Crayon. It was, aptly, about a kid named Harold who used a purple crayon to draw his way through life. Whatever he needed and wanted, he drew it, and thus made his own reality. I believe Harold Siegel saw his own world in this way. He had a kind approach that others found attractive, and he manifested this approach in the world.

I will miss him greatly, and I hope that his legacy of kindness, compassion, and willingness to engage with those with opposing views can be a lesson for us all.

Remembering John Waffenschmidt

by Scott Cassel

On Wednesday, December 5, John Waffenschmidt died peacefully, and unexpectedly, in his sleep. As the PSI team struggles with the sudden loss of a close colleague and friend, many fond memories of John have surfaced.

John was passionate about everything – mountain climbing, lifecycle analysis, environmental justice, science, and energy-from-waste technology. He spontaneously sang and danced at our conference, and would correct anyone misusing the term “incineration.”

Product Stewardship Institute Conference

Photo by Robert Klein. Left to right: Fenton Rood (Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality), Scott Cassel (PSI), and John Waffenschmidt (Covanta) enjoying PSI’s 2017 Product Stewardship Forum in Boston.

John brought a unique blend of talents and interests to his role as PSI’s point person at Covanta for a decade-long partnership between our organizations. The partnership is, in some ways, an unlikely one between an environmental organization and a waste management company. However, John found multiple ways we could work together, including the time he came to me with the business concept of destroying waste pharmaceuticals left in medicine cabinets, at no cost to government, in Covanta’s municipal waste-to-energy plants.

To determine if our government members would support this concept, PSI convened two technical webinars and a briefing paper. John presented for Covanta and even offered a slot to a competitor that operates hazardous waste facilities. After rigorous questioning from state air quality regulators and others, two PSI state members stuck to their policy of hazardous waste incineration for waste medicines, but many others approved the use of solid waste combustion. This project helped pave the way for Covanta’s Rx4Safety program, which has provided free destruction for residents and governments of over 5 million pounds of waste medications.

John and I worked closely on many other projects through the years, including joint presentations to state officials in support of EPR legislation and a mattress stewardship dialogue in Connecticut we facilitated and Covanta seed funded, which led to three state EPR laws for mattresses.

My last conversation with John was a follow-up call he made immediately after a phone conversation in which he sensed a tinge of concern in my voice. He wanted to make sure that what he had conveyed to me was understood. He wanted to smooth out a minor ripple in our communications. I assured him we were good, and that our relationship was solid. That call left me with a strong feeling of humanity. John sensed something was not quite right, and he acted on it. His follow up call took 30 seconds, but it is the lasting feeling I have of John – of honesty, friendship, and peace.

Producer Responsibility: Seeking Leaders in the Textile Industry

by Scott Cassel and Kristin Aldred Cheek

blue-pattern-texture-macroLast fall’s textiles summit was a watershed moment in efforts to address textile waste in the U.S. Organized by the Product Stewardship Institute (PSI), New York Product Stewardship Council (NYPSC), New York State Association for Reduction, Reuse and Recycling (NYSAR3), and New York State Pollution Prevention Institute (NYSP2I), the event brought together more than 200 textile designers, brand owners, used clothing collectors, recyclers, and government officials for the first time. The focus: improving the sustainability of the textile industry throughout the supply chain, including reducing the amount of textiles disposed and keeping millions of dollars in valuable materials circulating in our economy.

One point of general agreement at the summit was the need to move away from a “fast fashion” mentality and, in its place, build a repair-reuse-recycle mindset among businesses and consumers. Unfortunately, nearly one year later, leadership from brand owners and manufacturers remains largely absent.

Upstream, there are voluntary initiatives to reduce the environmental impacts of the textiles industry. Researchers are developing new methods to separate and extract fibers from used textiles, which would enable companies to recover the most valuable material and turn it into new products. Downstream, there are often-cited projects by companies like Patagonia and Eileen Fisher to repair, reuse, and recycle clothing.

Such efforts are examples of the varied possibilities for a more sustainable approach, but they shouldn’t distract us from the reality that the textiles industry as a whole is the second largest polluting industry in the world after oil and gas. While we wait for fiber recovery technology to be refined and brought to scale, or for voluntary efforts to grow to a meaningful level, the amount of textiles disposed continues to climb. A record 13 million tons of textiles went to landfills or combustion facilities in 2015 alone.

The technology to reuse, recycle, and repurpose many textiles already exists. Countless organizations and businesses already understand the value of recovering what’s currently being wasted and are clamoring for more material.

What’s missing is the properly funded infrastructure for collection and processing.

By requiring all textile manufacturers to finance and manage the post-consumer textiles they sell into the market, Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) policies can achieve the efficient reuse and recycling of a high percentage of scrap textiles. EPR policies create an organized structure for cooperation and communication that is based on financial incentives and social responsibility. These systems create a level playing field among producers so that all players compete equally. At the same time, EPR lifts much of the burden from taxpayers who are currently funding disposal, regardless of their personal textile purchase and disposal habits.

There is a huge opportunity here for brand owners. Over the long haul, economies across the globe are heading toward more transparency, more substantive corporate responsibility, and more circularity. Companies that take responsibility for the lifecycle of their products will have the fewest risks and the greatest likelihood of increasing their market share. Moreover, companies that seize a leadership role today and engage in the process of developing an EPR system will be setting the bar for themselves and their competitors and defining product stewardship in the textiles industry for years to come.

To develop effective policy, there needs to be a facilitator that can develop a consensus on the extent of the problem, the goals sought by those with an interest in the outcome, the barriers to achieving those goals, and the solutions to overcoming those barriers. There is a roadmap for success. Over the past two decades, PSI has facilitated the development of many effective EPR policy models, and today our members are interested in the development of a policy model for textiles.

Governments are preparing to tackle the issue. Manufacturers and brand owners need to bring their knowledge and interests to the table and lead the industry to the solution. If your organization is interested in being part of the conversation, contact PSI’s Kristin Aldred Cheek at (617) 236-8293.

EPR and the China Sword

by Scott Cassel and Kristin Aldred Cheek

In July 2017, China formally announced new import restrictions on recyclables, which came into effect in 2018. U.S. municipalities are now feeling the Sword’s sting. A lack of investment in domestic recycling infrastructure, dependence on other nations to accept contaminated recyclables, and failure to account for the full lifecycle costs of packaging have resulted in significantly increased costs for local governments and taxpayers. China’s policy shift revealed flaws in U.S. recycling systems, which currently rely on voluntary action on the part of packaging producers.

In British Columbia, however, where an extended producer responsibility (EPR) law is in place for packaging and paper products, the effects of the Sword are muted. There is now increasing interest in EPR for packaging in the U.S. – which will only grow as the impacts of China’s policies continue to unfold.

Failure to place responsibility on producers through effective EPR legislation has left many local governments and taxpayers in a difficult bind across the U.S. From Massachusetts to Oregon, municipalities are suspending all or portions of their recycling operations and seeking permission where needed to landfill recyclable items. Twenty-two municipalities in Washington recently granted a waste management company permission to landfill post-consumer paper that had been piling up. In Minnesota, where state law forbids landfilling or burning recyclables, waste managers and regulators are discussing the possibility of a waiver for the first time. In places where recycling contracts are expiring, municipalities suddenly find themselves absorbing enormous costs in their budgets for something that used to generate revenue, or raising residents’ recycling and waste disposal rates.

Meanwhile, BC’s EPR program has transformed the collection and recycling of packaging and paper products into an integrated province-wide system that has achieved one of the lowest contamination rates in North America. Instead of each municipality collecting its own set of recyclables and educating their residents in different ways, BC has developed a cohesive system that spurred investments in local processing capacity, achieving the economies of scale that packaging brand owners need to meet their ambitious recycled content and recyclability goals. Well-functioning European EPR systems – for instance, in Belgium, Spain, and Italy – have achieved similar success.

U.S. municipalities have been doing their best within the limits of their individual jurisdictions, but their efforts are not enough in the face of growing plastics pollution, increasing complexity in packaging, and shrinking export markets for recyclables. Without carefully planned, significant change in product stewardship policies and practices for packaging, U.S. governments, recyclers, and brand owners will not achieve their goals. It is time for U.S. policymakers and businesses to seriously examine how EPR programs can achieve the results they seek. That’s why the Product Stewardship Institute is reconvening packaging EPR strategic calls this fall for our Full Members. If you would like to be involved in our work on packaging EPR, contact Kristin Aldred Cheek at kristin@productstewardship.us, or (617) 236-8293.

In Response: The Right Way to Remember Rachel Carson

The Product Stewardship Institute’s Scott Cassel responds to the New Yorker’s March 26th article, The Right Way to Remember Rachel Carson

Jill Lepore’s The Shorebird speaks volumes about Rachel Carson’s love of the Maine intertidal. It also covers her scientific expertise in biology that she parlayed into a job at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, her full body of nature writing (rejections included), and her secret relationship with Dorothy Freeman from whom she got tremendous support for her methodical, sound, and truth to power Silent Spring ode to chemical companies. Lepore paints a picture of Carson as persistent, politically savvy, and a rock solid caregiver for family members whose lives fell into her lap. Carson’s keen observations and love of nature enabled her to amass knowledge she could not disown about DDT and its impact on the ecological chain of life. It is much clearer to me now how Carson’s robust life experiences enabled her to be the one to set the environmental movement on its way. Thanks to The New Yorker for publishing excerpts of Silent Spring when others would not, and for keeping her spirit alive with Lepore’s piece, as the Trump Administration drains beauty from the intertidal swamp.