Author Archives: Scott Cassel

Let’s Take on Industry Polluter #2
Donate & Recycle
Used Clothes, Footwear, and Other Textiles

The next time you toss a shirt into the trash because it’s time for a fresh one, consider this: the manufacture of clothes, shoes, belts, and accessories – otherwise known as textiles – is the second largest polluting industry in the world after oil and gas. That’s right. Pesticides used to grow cotton, toxics in dyes, and energy-intensive manufacturing create a whopping impact on the environment and public health.

What happens to these products after we no longer want them is just as shocking. Eighty-three percent [1] of used textiles are disposed in the garbage, even though the majority of these items can be donated for reuse and recycling. Even items that are worn and torn can be reused as rags and insulation.

While chemists and technology innovators work to reduce upstream manufacturing impacts, we all can make a huge difference in reducing the number of downstream textiles that become garbage instead of feedstock for new products. We challenge you to donate or recycle all used textiles for reuse and recycling.

The problem, however, is only getting worse, as the consumption of “fast fashion” is projected to jump 63 percent by 2030. [2] In New York State alone, residents dispose of 1.4 billion pounds of clothing and textiles each year, worth over $130 million. Reusing and recycling these products would create up to 1,000 new jobs. [3]

Textiles Summit at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT)

To address the growing problem of textile waste – upstream AND downstream – 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) hosted the 2017 New York Textiles Summit at FIT in New York City on October 31st. The event brought together more than 200 textile designers, brand owners, used clothing collectors, recyclers, and government officials to discuss how to bring used textiles back into the circular economy.

The Summit was divided into four parts to represent each phase of consumption from upstream to downstream. Here are a few things we learned:

Session 1: Sustainable Manufacturing and Design
Since waste is created at all stages of the textile manufacturing process, even starting with pattern making, it is critical to bring designers and recyclers together to explore ways to reduce waste at the source and increase the value of post-consumer textiles. Moderator Tricia Carey from Lenzing Fibers emphasized that, although smaller companies might not have large marketing budgets, they are making sizeable strides in sustainable manufacturing on par with larger companies.

Session 2: Collection
Industry leader Eric Stubin from 2ReWear focused on immediate opportunities to collect textiles using existing public and private infrastructure. Panelists discussed how retail stores can be a convenient option for consumers to drop off used textiles. For example, Eileen Fisher Renew recycles 170,000 units of clothing in the U.S. each year, receives over $2 million worth of donated clothing, and creates $10 million in resale value. Patagonia’s Worn Wear program accepts all used Patagonia clothing and offers consumers $20-$100 per item. “More retailers will be forced to collect for reuse because of the cost of virgin materials,” said one panelist.

New York City’s textiles reuse and recycling program needs immediate scalable solutions to manage 200,000 tons of textile waste each year from City residents. One local partner, Goodwill Industries, whose social mission is fueled by revenue from donated clothing, collected nearly 43,000 tons of used textiles from New York and New Jersey alone in 2016. [4] Even with these initiatives, citizens don’t always know what to donate or where to go to do so, which is why PSI, NYPSC, NYSAR3, and NYSP2I facilitated unified Standards for Coalition Participation, a consensus forged among non-profit and for-profit collectors for membership in the Re-Clothe NY Textiles Coalition. To educate consumers, one participant suggested that all clothing labels include a unified message: “wear-donate-recycle.”

Session 3: Markets
In this panel, major New York collectors discussed domestic and global markets for post-consumer textile material. Cyntex’s Scott Cynamon, panel moderator, emphasized that the value of secondhand textiles is much higher than other commodities, and clothing markets tend to stay relatively constant while other markets fluctuate. In order to take advantage of these markets, however, we need a shared vision among a diverse stakeholder base, including manufacturers and retailers, to increase the amount of textile material collected. Overcoming consumer perception of “second hand” as inferior is a critical first step. There are 3.8 billion pounds of used textiles that enter the North American market each year, and only 1-2 percent of these clothes are high-end brands for resale. Although existing markets exist for 95 percent of used textiles, most is disposed. “Our biggest competitor is the landfill,” said one processor. Another challenge is that secondary textile materials compete globally with low-cost new products produced in China and India.

Session 4: The Circular Economy and Innovative Recycling Technologies
Moderator Tasha Lewis of Cornell University promoted accessible technologies that can transform post-consumer textile waste into a raw material substitute. Stacy Flynn discussed her vision that became a reality when she founded Evrnu, which uses cutting-edge technology to turn post-consumer fibers into new clothing made of regenerative materials. Another company, I:CO, provides collection and reuse solutions that enable over forty leading brands in sixty countries to participate in the circular economy. I:CO’s Jennifer Gilbert called these “bright lights of progress amidst the daunting impact of textiles disposal.” Circular businesses like these are critical to reducing the textile industry’s environmental impacts, and the group challenged the fashion industry to enter the global circular economy by supporting take-back and the remanufacture of recycled fibers.

The Summit concluded with a facilitated discussion among participants to develop a shared vision for moving forward. Overall, participants agreed that moving away from “fast fashion” by increasing education among consumers about the benefits of a repair, reuse, and recycle mindset is an essential next step.

PSI will continue the dialogue in 2018 to identify tangible steps to increase reuse and recycling. Those interested in participating should contact PSI’s Scott Cassel at (617) 236-4822.

 

Any opinions, findings, and/or interpretations of data contained herein are the responsibility of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the opinions, interpretations or policy of Rochester Institute of Technology and its NYS Pollution Prevention Institute or the State. Funding provided by the NYS Pollution Prevention Institute through a grant from the Environmental Protection Fund as administered by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.

 


[1] Advancing Sustainable Materials Management: 2014 Tables and Figures, U.S. EPA, January 2016.
[2] Pulse of the Fashion Industry: 2017, Global Fashion Agenda and The Boston Consulting Group, Inc., 2017.
[3] The Re-clothe NY Coalition, New York State Association for Reduction, Reuse & Recycling, 2017.
[4] Huffington Post, interview with Jose Medellin, director of communications for Goodwill NY/NJ, Sept. 28, 2016.

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In Response: Cleanup from California Fires Poses Environmental and Health Risks

The Product Stewardship Institute’s Scott Cassel responds to the New York Times’ October 16th article, Cleanup from California Fires Poses Environmental and Health Risks

The toxic ash remaining from the California wild fires should be a wake-up call not only regarding climate change but also toxic products. The manufacture of household and building products that contain hazardous materials will now result in added health costs to residents salvaging items from their devastated homes and to workers assisting in the clean-up effort. There will also be added health risks and costs to dispose of the toxic ash. Unfortunately, those paying these costs will not be the companies who profit from their manufacture, but taxpayers and governments. We need to account for these added costs imposed by the toxic products we buy to clean and maintain our homes. These products should cost more to buy compared to safer products that do not impact the environment. It is time to stop allowing manufacturers of toxic products to unload the true costs of making, using, and disposing of their products on taxpayers and governments that clean up their mess and subsidize their profits.

Sincerely,

Scott Cassel
Chief Executive Officer + Founder
Product Stewardship Institute, Inc.

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In Response: The Drug Industry’s Triumph Over the DEA

The Product Stewardship Institute’s Scott Cassel recently submitted the following letter to the editor to the Washington Post in response to its October 15th article, The Drug Industry’s Triumph over the DEA

Dear Editor:

The October 15th investigations article, “The Drug Industry’s Triumph over the DEA,” highlights the power of the pharmaceutical industry to avoid taking responsibility for their role in the opioid epidemic, which has torn apart families and imposed unacceptable health costs on society. One billion dollars worth of leftover drugs sits in U.S. medicine cabinets and has become a gateway to addiction, abuse, and accidental poisonings.

It’s time for the U.S. pharmaceutical industry to be held accountable for the massive quantities of medicine it puts on the market. Massachusetts, Vermont, and 18 counties or cities in California, Illinois, New York, and Washington have passed laws that require pharmaceutical companies to finance and/or manage jurisdiction-wide drug take-back programs designed to provide residents with safe and convenient medication drop-off locations at pharmacies, hospitals, and law enforcement offices.

We urge the Council of the District of Columbia to amend the Safe Disposal of Pharmaceuticals Amendment Act of 2017 (B22-0228) to require the industry to take back unwanted medicine and help alleviate the raging opioid epidemic.

Sincerely,

Scott Cassel
Chief Executive Officer/Founder
Product Stewardship Institute

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Seeking Leaders in 2017

Dear Product Stewardship Institute (PSI) Members, Partners, and Colleagues:

I want to wish you all a Happy New Year!

As we step into 2017, those of us working on environmental issues have a big challenge ahead. How can we work together to reduce material consumption and, to quote Professor Bob Giegengack, “move toward a less unsustainable society”?

We founded PSI in 2000 to represent state and local government views about product stewardship, and we received formal letters signed by chief environmental executives from 47 states pledging to work with PSI to encourage manufacturers to take responsibility for reducing the health and environmental impacts of their products. We have always worked for all state and local governments – those seeking regulatory changes, as well as those advancing voluntary initiatives. In our eyes, protecting the environment is a non-partisan issue.

PSI actively pursues these goals. In fact, our mediation led to the nation’s first national product stewardship agreement with the paint industry, which resulted in an innovative system that has created over 200 jobs, saved over $69 million for governments, and recycled 16 million gallons of paint. To develop that agreement, the American Coatings Association, state and local governments, the U.S. EPA, retailers, and recyclers took a chance on a process that they could not fully control but that they could influence with their own ideas and interests. These leaders could have stepped away from that agreement at any time, but they did not. And they are all reaping the benefits.

We need more leaders like this. We cannot afford to keep wasting resources.

We need government leaders who will break from the bureaucratic status quo and innovate. We need manufacturing executives who will take risks that lead to greater competitive advantage and industry-wide change. We need recyclers who can artfully balance their operations in the realm of regulation with their allegiance to manufacturers who give them significant business. And we need retailers who can embrace a new role to collect consumer products and turn them back into the circular economy.

PSI is ready to work with those of you who are willing to take a leadership role. You are needed. And now is the time.

May we all be blessed with a healthy and productive 2017.

sc-signature-new-2014-scan

 

 

Scott Cassel
Chief Executive Officer + Founder
Product Stewardship Institute

In Response: “Opioid Poisonings Rise Sharply Among Toddlers and Teenagers”

The Product Stewardship Institute’s Scott Cassel and Vivian Fuhrman recently submitted the following letter to the editor to the New York Times in response to its November 4th article, Opioid Poisonings Rise Sharply Among Toddlers and Teenagers

Dear Editor:

840600_94918677_smlIn the October 31st article, “Opioid Poisonings Rise Sharply Among Toddlers and Teenagers,” you fail to mention drug take-back as the best option for families to rid their homes of the over 1 billion dollars in leftover drugs that sit in medicine cabinets and become a gateway to addiction, abuse, and accidental poisonings. Massachusetts, Vermont, and 14 counties or cities in California, Illinois, and Washington passed laws that make pharmaceutical companies responsible for financing and/or managing jurisdiction-wide drug take-back programs designed to provide residents with convenient, safe drop-off locations at pharmacies, hospitals, and law enforcement agencies. Many countries in Canada and Europe also have laws that require industry to manage the proper disposal of the medications they put into the marketplace. Unfortunately, U.S. pharmaceutical companies continue to promote garbage disposal and refuse to take responsibility for safe drug disposal. It’s time for the American pharmaceutical industry to be held accountable for the massive quantities of leftover medicines that contribute to the opioid epidemic, which has torn apart families and imposed unacceptable health costs on society.

Sincerely,

Scott Cassel, CEO/Founder
Vivian Fuhrman, Ph.D., Associate for Policy and Programs

In Response: “Yellow, Fuzzy, and Flat: Where Do Recycled Tennis Balls Go?”

tennis-ballIn a recent New York Times article, entitled Yellow, Fuzzy, and Flat: Where Do Recycled Tennis Balls Go?, Ben and Scott Soloway show that it is possible to recycle tennis balls. Unfortunately, thousands of products like tennis balls get trashed every day because it costs more to collect, transport, and recycle them than it does to throw them away.

But when you really parse out the true costs of trashing – the social, health, and environmental impacts – recycling is, at its face, often less expensive. The energy needed to manufacture new tennis balls, for instance, contributes to greenhouse gas emissions – exacerbating climate change, which ultimately requires billions more dollars for mitigation projects. In addition, taxpayers and governments pick up the cost to dispose of products on behalf of the companies that profit from their manufacture and sale. The only way to ensure that manufacturers prioritize recycling is if they incorporate the true cost of post-consumer management into the purchase price of their products.

Tennis ball recycling, like the recycling of other goods, is admirable, but is often not sustainable unless all manufacturers recycle their products. Although there are many admirable voluntary efforts, industry leaders would be at a competitive disadvantage if they chose to voluntarily incorporate the true cost of managing their products into their business models when their competitors do not. Legislation can level the playing field across all product areas – from mattresses to tennis balls – so that all companies incur similar costs (and reap similar benefits), save valuable resources and taxpayer money, alleviate the burden on local governments, and create recycling jobs.

Interested in pursuing legislation that levels the playing field and creates sustainable reuse and recycling to return materials to the circular economy? Contact Scott Cassel at (617) 236-4822.

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).