Category Archives: Legislation

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.

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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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A Letter to Big Pharma

PSI submitted the following letter to the Wall Street Journal last week, responding to pharma’s op-ed, “Bad Drug Trip in Alameda.” While the letter was not published, the argument still stands, further solidified by today’s Supreme Court decision in which the Court declined to hear pharma’s petition against the Alameda County Safe Drug Disposal Ordinance.* This decision means that current take-back laws in Alameda County, CA; San Francisco, CA; San Mateo, CA; and King County, WA will remain in effect.

 

drug-take-back

In the May 17 editorial, “Bad Drug Trip in Alameda,” the author criticizes Alameda County, California, for passing a law requiring pharmaceutical companies to provide drug take-back programs in the county, calling the law “protectionist” and based on “a speculative fear.”

Alameda’s law is necessary because pharmaceutical companies have not taken responsibility for the millions of overprescribed, unused, and outdated medications that contribute to drug abuse, accidental poisonings, aquatic impacts, and water quality concerns. The trash or drain is not a safe method for disposing drugs — which is partly why support for these kinds of laws is widespread and growing.

The White House’s Office of National Drug Control Policy, several federal agencies, and 43 state agencies all support programs to collect and safely dispose of unused medications. Four provinces in Canada and nearly a dozen countries already have pharma-funded and operated drug take-back programs. In addition to Alameda County, three other U.S. counties have adopted similar ordinances. There are 84 other state and local laws that require manufacturers to fund and safely manage the disposal of consumer products.

The US Constitution gives Congress the exclusive power to regulate interstate commerce in Article 1. Big Pharma’s challenge is primarily based on the dormant commerce clause, which maintains that states cannot burden interstate commerce. This burden is subject to a balancing test, one that calls a law illegal only if the burden on commerce is clearly excessive when compared to local benefits.

Do the local benefits – limiting drug abuse and accidental poisonings, and protecting water quality and aquatic organisms – outweigh the burden the pharmaceutical industry must incur to pay for take-back programs? We at PSI think so – and hope the Supreme Court does too

Scott Cassel
Chief Executive Officer and Founder
Product Stewardship Institute
Boston, MA

*For more information on this case, see PSI’s fact sheet exploring the implications of the decision, and another fact sheet outlining the history of this legal challenge.

Comfortable in an Uncomfortable Space

Last weekend I had the joy and good fortune to watch my daughter graduate from college. Few of my previous life experiences have matched that prideful day.

At Wesleyan University, on commencement day, a commitment to social justice dripped from each graduate’s gown. A stream of red and black marched by the round-topped star-gazing observatory as African drummers pounded soulful renderings under a tent. Professors and other dignitaries mingled around lawn chairs, and flags whipped in the cold wind.

Receiving an honorary degree was former Wesleyan graduate, Majora Carter, whose efforts to economically revitalize poor urban areas are profoundly “Wes.” So was her speech. Her message: Get ready to be uncomfortable. That’s right! Anyone who wants to shake up the status quo will have enemies, even brutal opposition. You will know who your friends aren’t, she said.

As someone who wears product stewardship lenses inside his glintertwined arrowsasses, the message resonated with what I say about PSI – we are comfortable in an uncomfortable space – occupying a crevice of real estate between government, industry, and environmental groups. Most of the time, the positions we take are downright uncomfortable, at times going head to head with some of our own government members; other times trying to motivate brand owners that are convinced they know the answer even when no data exist; and other times getting smashed by environmental activists for being too close to business.

Over the past 13 years, this space has yielded dividends. In the past two weeks, three new producer responsibility laws have passed – Connecticut’s first-in-the-nation mattress law, and paint laws in Minnesota and Vermont (the 5th and 6th states to pass paint stewardship legislation so far). These laws do not pass solely because of PSI. In many ways, they would never pass if it was all up to us, or up to any one stakeholder. It takes a strong coalition that gets built over time. Starting and maintaining those coalitions is what PSI does – and it often starts in a very uncomfortable place, where we need to convince all stakeholders that the heavy lifting needed to change the status quo is worth the effort.

Thanks to all of our partners for great success these past two weeks, and we hope for many more victories that result in resource savings, job creation, and taxpayer savings. I am starting to like this feeling of being a little less uncomfortable.

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