Category Archives: Current Events

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

Back to the New Normal

Boston-StrongLast week swept through Boston like a year, a silent moving picture whose old-time footage crackled with age, but, bright with modern day color, was telling of the future. On the other hand, at times, the events in happened so painfully slowly, with an air of inevitability, waiting, on the table’s edge, as the glass shook and started to fall, down, to the, floor.

Being American allows us to have a sense that justice will be served, that the rule of law will prevail, that we will swallow the evil, find an antidote to the germ, spit it out, and keep moving forward. Boston showed the best of America, and the best of humanity. Lives were saved here by how people reacted. The media found people who gave voice to heroism and humanity: the pediatric medical resident who pleaded with police to let her back through the barricade after she finished running the marathon because she just had to help; the man who lost one son to Iraq and another to suicide who came to the marathon to support veterans and mental health advocates, then ended up saving the life of a man who lost both of his legs; the young Chinese women laying flowers at the makeshift memorial at Berkeley and Boylston Streets; the neighbor providing the vision of a little girl who lost a leg but will dance again in the future; and the proud grandmother with breathing apparatus blessing the memory of her granddaughter who died by telling us about her good nature and curly hair that she had filled with bows before sending her off to school when she was a child.

We now know who did this unthinkable act. We do not really yet know why. But it does seem to be about rage, like a pressure cooker bursting because no one was watching the stove. Was it because of a failure to succeed in the Land of Opportunity when one man’s timeframe reached its limit? Was it the treacherous path of a young man that led to a jihadist’s door behind which despair utters epithets in masked disgrace? We don’t yet know, and we may never. It does seem, though, that these two kids inflicted their own inner turmoil on our innocent people.

Last week marked the reaction of a healthy society. We are fortunate to have the freedom to enjoy races, to walk about without soldiers at every corner, without snipers and bombs, and without barbed wire to protect our homes. With all of our struggles over ideology and policy, the United States is functional, strong, and effective, and clearly knows right from wrong. It is a place where everyone has a chance to succeed – as the bombers’ uncle poignantly insisted – even as we struggle to level the playing field.

Boston is the medical capital of the world, and the reaction of its citizens and expertise of its medical professionals saved lives. But there is something else that makes me proud to live here – it is hard to express, but it was on display for the world, as we grieved while in pursuit, searched while we pondered, and cried while we functioned very effectively. I am comforted knowing that we each feel the obligation to watch the back of the other, to help when not called, and to bring us back quickly to a place of security.

I look forward to standing among the masses again at many future Boston marathons to cheer the endurance of our patriots.

Tagged , , ,

My Trip to Wal-Mart: In Search of Sustainability

Edit: visit PSI’s Flickr page to see some photos from the 6th Annual Walmart and Sam’s Club Sustainable Packaging Exposition.

Over the past few years, Wal-Mart has successfully shed its image of fueling America’s thirst for low-cost consumption to become a leader in the emerging field of sustainability. Recently, I had the opportunity to speak about product stewardship at Wal-Mart’s 6th Annual Sustainability Expo in Bentonville, Arkansas. My message was that companies have a unique responsibility to be stewards of their products across the entire lifecycle, and that government can be a good partner. While that message was embraced by many company leaders, I also ran into a tsunami of market-based mania that fears change and uncertain outcomes.

Bentonville is a mix between Rockwell-like farmland with horses and cattle roaming in fenced-in plains…and company row houses. The Expo was located at a hotel that became a Mecca for hundreds of Wal-Mart suppliers, each touting sustainability claims that were verified by PSI partner, EPI, which after six years of Expos, still found the need to correct the claims for two-thirds of the vendors prior to the show. Every commodity association was there – paper, aluminum, plastic, glass, metals. Every consumer packaged goods company was represented, like Colgate-Palmolive, Kraft, Unilever, and P&G. Companies were selling eco-packaging, defined in innumerable ways. And the Product Stewardship Institute was there, with our spiffy table-top display.

Coupled with the vendor booths were three morning presentations, one after the other, two at a time. The rest of the day was free to view the exhibits and mingle. I presented at one of the sessions (twice) and sat in on several of the others. Wal-Mart puts a tremendous amount of effort into defining sustainability for itself and its suppliers. Wal-Mart’s Scorecard compares suppliers on a range of sustainability criteria so that buyers can make decisions based on environmental factors as well as the usual price, quality, and other variables, although I did not hear anything about social criteria (child labor, worker issues, etc.) being measured. The presenters went into painstaking detail about how suppliers are to fill out their Scorecard. The room was packed, and people were paying close attention. I asked several suppliers what motivated them to make changes towards sustainability. “Because Wal-Mart’s asking us to do it,” was the reply.

Perhaps then it should be no surprise that some companies did not take kindly to being told they have a corporate responsibility in the form of product stewardship, and that there was a strong role for government. This is a crowd that runs on voluntary programs, that is motivated by the market, and wants to keep government about the size of a pinhead. They are motivated by cost savings from sustainability, and have not thought much about the environmental impacts of their products when consumers no longer want them.  I took the challenge, and told them about market failures, and about the four tons of mercury going into the environment each year from the disposal of thermostats despite a decade-old voluntary industry program. I made the usual case for jobs, economic value, environmental protection, and taxpayer savings. I described how PSI developed paint legislation jointly with the American Coatings Association, and how this has resulted in the expansion of the recycled paint manufacturing sector, just as legislation on electronics spurred huge growth in the electronics recycling sector years ago.

There was much positive response to what I discussed. However, I also learned that many companies are threatened by product stewardship. One senior executive of a pharmaceutical giant knew all about the Product Stewardship Institute (PSI), including our national dialogue on medical sharps two years ago. His company is a major manufacturer of insulin and uses medical sharps as a means of delivering its medications to patients. He said he did not participate in our sharps dialogue because his company was not prepared to state its position. He complained that the dialogue was not developing solutions for real patients and that we didn’t know what patients wanted (even though we had patient advocate groups, sharps manufacturers, and other pharmaceutical companies at the table). During PSI’s two-year dialogue on medical sharps, we sketched out a statewide pilot project for the collection of sharps through various methods so we could evaluate the costs and complexities of such a model system. Unfortunately, the time and expense of developing the background information, reaching solutions, and designing a pilot came up short because the few key pharmaceutical companies (like this guy’s company) that needed to make a commitment refused to participate. Now, two years later, after billions more medical sharps have been disposed of in the trash, and after more worker injuries and added medical costs, I was told that this major company is working on an industry voluntary solution. He indicated he didn’t want any help.

Later, I saw a colleague from the American Chemistry Council and we talked about local government plastic bag bans and taxes, and how the Illinois legislation that requires producers to pay for recycling programs might be an interesting model, one that ACC and local governments in Illinois support. I then talked with one of ACC’s members and a founding member of AMERIPEN, the new lobbying group for consumer packaged goods companies. This person had attended my session, objected to EPR for packaging, objected to my slide on the benefits of EPR, and saw plastic bag bans as EPR which, by the way, she objects to.

All in all, I came away very impressed with Wal-Mart’s ability to motivate companies with the shear force of market optimism, its ability to stay on message with so many dedicated senior staff, and the results they have achieved. I also came away knowing that many companies and individuals shut down their communication because of fear about changes that product stewardship might bring. These people stop progress for themselves, their companies, and the social good. They are indicative of companies that will find themselves at the back of the pack in making the changes they need to stay competitive. They are risky investments.

I do not expect full agreement with the product stewardship message. But if a problem exists, such as waste, environmental externalities, pollution, lost jobs, and unnecessary costs, we need to put our heads together to come up with the answers. Company representatives that want government to wait until their company has an iron-clad position will only harden opposition to a joint solution.

As always, the Product Stewardship Institute is ready for discussion. We are ready to change our understanding of issues…because that is what happens when people talk to one another. But when problems persist, or if companies bury their heads, don’t expect PSI to stand by idly waiting for companies to finally decide they are ready. Where is the corporate responsibility in that? Where is the individual responsibility and personal commitment needed to take care of problems that products cause? If you work for a company and you don’t act now, try explaining that to your grandchildren.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Recycling and Product Stewardship – What Wisconsin’s Governor Really Needs

An amazing thing is taking place in Wisconsin. Not only is Governor Scott Walker attacking unions, but he has tried to eliminate municipal recycling by getting rid of the requirement for local governments to run recycling programs and all state funding for them. He has done so while showing no understanding of its ramifications. A serious public backlash has included both Republican and Democratic legislators, and the Governor’s plan might well be thwarted. But perhaps we should take a closer look at what is taking place in Wisconsin. We see overwhelming public support for recycling, but a Governor who does not want taxes to pay for it. This sounds an awful lot like product stewardship to me.

During these lean budget times, government agencies across the country have reduced staff, which threatens their ability to protect public health and the environment from the negative impacts of waste disposal. By shifting the responsibility to finance and manage recycling from taxpayer-funded government programs to manufacturers and consumers, we get the environmental protection benefits we seek, but we also free up billions of dollars that government agencies have paid to protect the public from product impacts. We also place the financial incentive for reducing waste impacts squarely with those who know best how to reduce them – the manufacturers.

Governor Walker has raised an interesting question – Why should government pay for recycling programs? On one hand, these programs provide a significant public benefit. They keep waste from filling landfills; reduce impacts from waste-to-energy plants; and often provide businesses with lower-cost materials for manufacturing new products. They also create more jobs than disposal. Recycling, in other words, creates business opportunities while also saving energy, reducing greenhouse gas impacts, and protecting the environment. And if cutting off state funding leads to more landfilling of materials, local governments will largely bear the increased costs for garbage disposal. There are no cost savings for a recyclable bottle, newspaper, or milk jug that goes into the trash. In fact, the cost for disposal in many Wisconsin communities exceeds the cost of recycling. So, if the Governor wants to pass recycling costs onto local governments, it could indeed result in a tax increase in many areas, particularly if the materials now going for recycling are disposed!

Recycling provides public benefits. But why should government pay the cost to reduce the impacts from private business operations? Aren’t we then subsidizing businesses for creating waste? And aren’t businesses passing onto government what should be their costs? What incentive does that give manufacturers to reduce the waste they create once consumers no longer need their products, along with the associated cost it imposes on society? Not a whole lot.

So, while the Wisconsin Legislature should restore funds for recycling, it should also heed the Governor’s impulse to reduce taxes and develop a comprehensive state product stewardship plan. Wisconsin’s electronics law, passed in 2009, is a good first step. But there are many products to go before we sleep. The Legislature should get cracking now on its plan.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

Sustainable Apparel and the Need for Global Standards



On March 1, the Sustainable Apparel Coalition launched a new voluntary initiative by leading companies such as Wal-Mart, J.C. Penney, Patagonia, and Timberland. According to the New York Times, the coalition seeks to develop “…a comprehensive database of the environmental impacts of every manufacturer, component, and process in apparel production, with the aim of using that information to eventually give every garment a sustainability score.”

This initiative marks a turning point for the apparel industry, and offers promise that consumers will be able to make more informed purchasing decisions. This effort is laudable on its own merits. However, in addition, these companies are opening the window to what they don’t know. And in so doing, it is bound to raise some interesting questions, ones that will likely lead to the need for global environmental and social standards for product manufacture. For years, U.S. companies have had to compete with cheaper labor in China, India, and other countries. But are they competing on labor costs and other criteria at the detriment of environmental and social impacts?

In fact, what do we know about the environmental and social impacts caused by manufacturing operations in developing countries? The answer is not much. We do know that many used electronics are shipped from well-meaning companies, government agencies, and non-profits in the U.S. to developing nations to be recycled. It all sounded so good…until the Basel Action Network informed us that many of these operations polluted rivers and sickened unprotected workers. It is likely that the Sustainable Apparel Coalition will find similar operations in which their members are unsuspecting enablers of poor environmental and social practices.  As the New York Times reports, Americans spent nearly $340 billion last year on clothing and shoes, nearly all of which was made in other countries. 

The New York Times article begins with an image of blue dye and other chemicals floating downriver from textile mills in China. An inside photo shows a fabric dyeing factory in Mumbai, India, that appears to provide little to no protection of the environment and workers. Our values, as Americans, are embedded in our laws. We would not want those same practices to take place on American soil. Those who uphold our country’s values for our own people should ensure that their actions are not enabling practices that cause harm to others in far-away places. We should not be exporting jobs to other countries if we are not also requiring that products we buy from companies operating in these countries be made using the same environmental and worker safety standards that we require of companies operating here in the U.S.

Companies participating in sustainable business practices know that you either pay now or pay more later…in the form of health care for sick or injured workers, cleanup of pollution, and replacement of poorly made products.  The Sustainable Apparel Coalition is off to a good start.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

What’s a Mother for? Mainers Speak Out for Product Stewardship

You know when your parents grow up and you realize that they’ve been listening to you all along?! On Tuesday, my Mom attended a packed-house ‘listening session’ on the new Maine governor’s controversial proposals for regulatory reform. These proposals have made news around the country, as all of us who have been following Maine’s leadership on product stewardship watch with bated breath to see what will happen under this new administration.

Mainers are speaking out, and showing up in droves at listening sessions around the state. My Mom ended up handing in her prepared remarks in writing after three hours of waiting to deliver them yesterday. I’m proud of her and other Mainers who are not policy wonks steeped in “product stewardship” and “EPR,” just people who have common sense, passion for family and community, and the perspective of how time and our actions change the places we love, both for better and for worse.

Even though we don’t talk “EPR,” “waste  hierarchy,” and “federal preemption” much around the dinner table, these are the themes I hear loud and clear in my mom’s remarks, below. She taught me to stand up for myself and my beliefs, take responsibility for my actions, and clean my room every Saturday morning. To me, these themes are also present in her remarks. Maybe it’s really that I’ve been listening to her all along!

Go Mom, and go Maine.

Karen Fletcher
Freeport , Maine
February 9, 2011

Regulatory Fairness and Reform Committee
Public Hearing

Senator Courtney and Committee members:

My name is Karen Fletcher.  I am a resident of Freeport, Maine.  I am here today representing myself.

I want to begin by thanking you for your public service…and for your participation in the continuing process of trying to ensure regulatory fairness. I am in favor of transparency, fairness, effectiveness and efficiency…goals that are part of the stated intent of your committee. These goals must be fair for ALL of Maine…and not just for the one sector.

I am NOT in favor of reforms that benefit an individual segment of our society at the expense of our air, our water, our quality of life, and our own health and well being as well as that of future generations.

When I read Phase I of Governor’s Regulatory Reform  proposals on the Governor’s website, I marked it up with many, many notes, some question marks, and quite a few exclamation points.  I am here today to share my fear that this current round of regulatory reform could  lead to roll backs to the “bad old days.”  Given the restrictions on time, and the more eloquent speakers here today, I will address two areas that arise in more than one of the proposals.

  1. Standards:  The governor’s regulatory reform proposals discuss having Maine’s regulations “conform” to Federal standards.  I believe that Maine should consider Federal standards to be minimum standards and that we should meet them.  But I also believe that Maine should exceed those standards when our individual and unique needs require that we do so.  Federal standards have to accommodate the great diversity of the United States.  Maine standards  have to be sure to continue to protect the uniqueness of our environment and the needs of our people. If that means that we have a higher standard…good for us! (Using this same logic, I support the option of municipal standards that might exceed state standards.)
  2. Consumer Products:  The governor’s regulatory reform proposals also call for reviewing all recycling and take back statues ensuring that “manufacturers do not have to pay to recycle their consumer products”.   As I read this section…and I ended up with many exclamation points… there were two images that came to my mind.  One was from the past:  the open, burning dump that we used to go to every Saturday morning when we moved to Maine 34 years ago. (I am proud to say we have a very active  recycling center).  The other image was from that very morning:  I had been working on our income tax forms and  had to replace the ink cartridge in the  printer.  When I opened the package there was a mailer to return the used cartridge for recycling.  How great was that!  It was easy for me to do the right thing; I thought good thoughts about the manufacturer (Hewlett Packard); and it was certainly better  for the environment.  Oh, and, I have no illusion that anyone other than I paid for the cost of the mailer as I am sure the manufacturer passed that cost along to me.

In conclusion, as you continue the process of reviewing  the  proposed changes in regulations, please, please, please be sure that you keep Maine moving forward with regulatory reforms that build on the environmental protections that have been developed over decades by bipartisan, cooperative, efforts engaging all sectors of our society. 

Thank you for the opportunity to share my concerns.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

Harnessing Market Forces through Product Stewardship: A Step toward Global Competitiveness

Last week, in the President’s State of the Union address, he challenged the nation to tap into our entrepreneurial spirit so we can better compete against China, India, and other countries that have invested heavily in their own country’s future. He spoke of a role of government that is nuanced – one that can work with the market, where government can guide development through policies that make us more competitive.

Product stewardship seeks limited governance that sets broad parameters for market competition. It seeks a greater role for the private sector, shifting the management and financial burdens from often inefficient government practices to those driven by market forces. Managing products that we call “waste” is nothing but inefficiencies in the market. It is a market failure. And that failure has resulted in billions of dollars of taxpayer costs to subsidize businesses whose products are manufactured and sold without consideration for their social and environmental costs.

How is it possible that telephone directories are still produced and distributed across the United States at the current rate? No one knows for sure how many people still use them, although most people I talk to don’t, except perhaps my over-80 parents and a few die-hards. Over 660,000 tons of directories get plunked onto our doorsteps, pathways, driveways, and vestibules each year. Less than a quarter are recycled. All must be collected and recycled or disposed of by government and paid for by government, with complaints being dealt with by government. That is the same Government that Tea Party leaders want to get out of business and get out of the business of business. It is time to heed their call.

Phone books keep getting delivered at their current rate of excess because the external costs of managing the directories after they are kerplunked is paid for by taxpayers, all $64 million of it. Whether we use one or not, we are all subsidizing telephone companies like AT&T and Verizon, and independent directory publishers like Dex and Yellow Book. Not only are we paying financially for their inefficient ways, but these companies are not covering the true cost of their impacts on our environment. They do not pay for the greenhouse gas impacts that the production of directories causes, or the stress on our water or air as the result of factories producing books no one wants, or emissions from trucks that transport them, deliver them, and pick them up, or pollution from the facilities that recycle them or dispose of them.

I picked on phone books here because they are visible and a clear waste if no one wants them. But this argument can be made on all products produced worldwide. Some companies have taken steps to reduce the lifecycle impacts of their products, and these leaders should be applauded. Others have taken a lead on turning materials from used products into usable commodities.

The United States can be a global leader in competitiveness. We are still the world’s market powerhouse. Product stewardship can maintain this strength through the efficient use of our nation’s resources, whether they are mined from the earth or mined from our households and businesses after use. Product stewardship policies seek good governance, not NO governance. Government should not “get out of the way” and let business run rampant. Haven’t we seen that movie before with the crises from banking, housing, and credit card deregulation? The government’s role in good product stewardship programs is limited to setting parameters for industry, guiding it, enforcing against those who cheat and want a free ride, and encouraging companies that are the true leaders of innovation to succeed.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

PSI Recommendations for Rulemaking under CSA Amendment

I get 10 minutes in front of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) next week to drive home some key points about what they can do to help make drug take-back easier and less expensive. DEA is in the process of developing regulations under the Secure and Responsible Drug Disposal Act of 2010 (see the fact sheet), which we all helped to pass.
 
Please help me to state your case by endorsing the Recommendations on the Safe Collection, Transport, and Disposal of Controlled Substances statement. This is an updated version of the one we developed in 2009 which was very effective in promoting the changed in federal law. I was told by the Office of National Drug Control Policy that having an updated document and an even longer endorsement list would be very helpful. In addition to bringing this to DEA, I will share it with this key coordinating agency.
 
We are seeking 100 endorsements by Tuesday morning at 9:30 am EASTERN. Yes, timing is tight, but we want to capture any and all of you out there who are able to turn this around quickly! To sign up as an endorser, please email me at sierra@productstewardship.us.
 
Thank you all very much! I encourage you to share this with others who are concerned with this issue. Agencies, organizations, and companies are all welcome!

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , ,