Category Archives: Extended Producer Responsibility

In Response: The Conflict of Interest That Is Killing Recycling

The Product Stewardship Institute’s Scott Cassel and Megan Byers respond to the New York Times’ August 15th Opinion piece, The Conflict of Interest That Is Killing Recycling

scrap-metal-trash-landfill-smA crisis can be painful. It can also be an opportunity for much-needed change.

Recent trade restrictions by China have troubled many U.S. industries, as well as municipal recycling programs that rely on Chinese markets. Shrinking markets for recovered material have raised municipal recycling costs. As a result, some recycling programs have closed, while others have stockpiled or disposed of recyclables the public expects to be turned into new products.

The fluctuation of recycling markets is nothing new. But for 50 years, we have failed to recognize that recycling is stifled by an uneven playing field.

It is time to disrupt the current recycling economic model, which relies on taxpayers and municipal governments to pick up the cost of managing waste products and packaging from which companies reap the profits. To date, U.S. corporations have dodged their responsibility to manage their products after consumers use them.

On the surface, it is often cheaper to dispose of used products and packaging than to recycle them (though landfill tipping fees are rising). However, in doing so, we fail to account for the much costlier externalities. In reality, brand owners and consumers are not paying the full cost of production and consumption, which includes environmental and social damages such as the need to continually mine virgin resources for the manufacture of new products. Instead, we experience these costs in the form of water, air, and land pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions leading to climate change. The cost to clean the water, air, and land is much greater than that to prevent contamination in the first place.

Governments often establish recycling programs to reduce litter and waste to improve quality of life for their citizens. Unfortunately, communities are at a huge disadvantage compared to brand owners that benefit from the throw-away economy while paying none of the waste management costs. Furthermore, most waste management companies like things just the way they are now. The status quo allows them to protect their investments in disposal technologies, and they enjoy powerful contractual leverage against municipalities and individual residents.

The real recycling tragedy is not just that municipalities use different bins and labels. It is that every community collects different materials, educates their residents in different ways, and has separate contracts with garbage and recycling haulers that provide different services and incentives. This inefficiency and lack of municipal cohesion is the basis for the recycling and garbage disposal crisis in the U.S.

There is hope. Countries across the world require brand owners – such as Unilever, Procter & Gamble, SC Johnson, General Mills, Pepsi, Amazon, and Walmart – to fund and manage the recycling of materials they put on the market. These companies, which are the same ones fighting change in the U.S., hire a non-profit to operate a network of collection and processing facilities with lean government oversight. This network leverages existing infrastructure and provides options for municipalities. These “producer responsibility” systems collect the same set of materials in every jurisdiction. They provide the same educational materials and symbols, with appropriate regional nuance. They have the same instructions and standards for municipalities and other collectors to keep contamination low.

And they get results. British Columbia, for example, has achieved a 75 percent recovery rate for packaging and printed paper, as compared to the 55 percent average in the U.S. for the same materials. The Canadian province has also reached an enviable contamination rate of 6.5 percent, compared to an average of about 15 percent in the U.S. These systems are in place in Europe (for over 30 years), across Canada (for up to 15 years), and now in Israel, Japan, South Africa, and an increasing number of other countries.

Well-crafted extended producer responsibility frameworks also reward innovation, especially for companies that use less material, switch to readily-recyclable options, and incorporate a higher percentage of recycled content in packaging.

The time has come to bring producer responsibility for packaging to the United States. Consumer product companies and waste management companies have valid concerns about change. But municipalities and taxpayers can no longer bear the sole financial burden for a problem created by societal consumption and brand owners’ poor packaging choices.

If we listen to one another, we can solve this problem together. We must understand the problems created by waste, share common goals, collectively overcome barriers, and agree on the solutions available.

It takes will, but it is long past time to start.

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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 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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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.

Lessons from an E-Scrap Workshop

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

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

Photo courtesy of Denise Szocka

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

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

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

Photo courtesy of Denise Szocka

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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Grand Opportunity in Extended Producer Responsibility

By John H. Skinner, Ph.D., Executive Director and CEO of SWANA
*This post has been republished from the SWANA newsletter, originally titled “Extended Producer Responsibility: An Opportunity, Not a Threat”. To join SWANA as a member and receive this newsletter, click here.

Extended producer responsibility (EPR) is based on the principle that producers of a product take responsibility for the end-of-life management of their products.1 In practice, this means that producers would be responsible for collecting and recycling their products and packaging once they have reached their end-of-life stage. In essence, producers would be obliged to organize the financing, organization and management of their product wastes, either by themselves or through the services of waste management companies or agencies.

One of the key goals of EPR is to provide financial incentives for producers to manufacture products and packaging that are easier to recycle. A number of products have been introduced to the marketplace, where recycling of the product is very difficult, costly and in some cases, virtually impossible, due to the choice of material and the product design. The history and current state of recycling is filled with examples. Holding the producer responsible for the recycling will create an incentive to make recyclability a key feature of product design.

EPR has had wide-scale application around the world. In Europe alone, 30 countries have established EPR as a fundamental part of their waste management system.2 Many of these programs already have driven packaging recycling levels above the quotas established set by the European Union for 2020. CalRecycle has reported on EPR programs in other parts of the world including Japan, Australia and New Zealand.3

In Canada, nine out of the ten Provinces have legislated EPR programs or requirements currently covering 94 product categories.4 The Canadian Council of Ministers reports that EPR will continue to play an important role in diverting waste from landfills and will help make Canada a world leader in waste diversion.

In the U.S., 33 states have EPR laws covering several special waste products such as computers, paints, batteries, tires and products containing mercury.5 In general, EPR has not been used in the U.S. to deal with the major components of the municipal solid waste stream such as packaging and printed materials. In contrast, five Canadian Provinces have EPR for packaging in place. In fact, there has been considerable opposition to applying EPR to these products in the U.S., not only by the producers themselves, but by some solid waste management companies and agencies. As Scott Cassel points out in the Resource Recycling article cited, this resistance continues in spite of data showing the much higher recycling rate in many European countries that have used EPR for packaging for more than 20 years.

The opposition to EPR for packaging and printed materials from the waste management industry in the U.S. stems in part from a concern that recycling programs established by producers would divert valuable, revenue-generating recyclables from existing local recycling programs. This is a legitimate concern. If higher value recyclables such as plastics, aluminum, paper and paper board were skimmed off by the producer established programs, a deleterious effect would occur for local programs. However, if producers worked through local programs to meet their EPR obligations, by providing financial resources and market support for recyclables, the economics of local programs actually could be enhanced. In fact, SWANA’s Product Stewardship Policy6 fully supports this relationship between producer supported recycling programs and local recycling programs:

“Manufacturers should…work with local governments to support, promote, improve and expand programs to collect, process and recycle products…

Implementation of product stewardship should not create new or duplicative programs that preempt existing programs run by or for local governments but should support or expand such programs in cooperation with and oversight by the local government…”

Let’s face it; the national recycling rate in the U.S. has stagnated at about 34 percent for nearly a decade. Waste management professionals should not look at EPR as a threat, but as an opportunity to bring additional resources to support and expand local efforts and drive recycling rates higher. Innovative and forward-thinking local recycling programs can develop a synergistic relationship with producer-supported EPR programs. This approach has been used in many successful EPR programs around the world.

On March 18 at SWANA’s Road to Zero Waste Conference in New Orleans, a special session titled EPR in the Real World: Lessons Learned explored the criteria for success of EPR through experiences of solid waste managers who have first-hand involvement with these programs. The presenters discussed how the lessons learned from these programs can develop useful insights for the successful application of EPR in North America and elsewhere in the world.

John Skinner is the CEO and Executive Director at the Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA). Prior to this position, John worked as a Senior Advisor at the United Nations Environment Programme. He also held a variety of positions at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from 1972-1992. You may find his full biography here. For additional information, John can be reached at jskinner@swana.org

 

You may find the original post in the SWANA newsletter here.


1 The Extended Producer Responsibility Alliance (EXPRA), Inspiring Packaging Recycling, Brussels, Belgium. EXPRA is a not-for-profit organization, set up in 2013 with the purpose of effectively promoting authentic application of EPR for packaging waste. Its members are producer companies in over 18 countries www.expra.eu.
2 The European Experience on EPR, Joachim Quoden, Managing Director Expira, to be presented at SWANA’s Road to Zero Waste Conference, New Orleans, LA, March 18, 2015.
3 http://www.calrecycle.ca.gov/epr/PolicyLaw/default.htm
4 Progress Report on the Canada-Wide Action Plan for Extended Producer Responsibility, Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment, 2014.
5 EPR’s Next Step, Scott Cassel, CEO Product Stewardship Institute, Resource Recycling, December 2014.
T2.1 SWANA Technical Policy: Product Stewardship, March 28, 2014

4 Reasons Why EPR is the Best Solution for Safe Drug Disposal

pharmaceutical take back programsPharmaceuticals are an essential component of our healthcare system. They save lives and improve quality of life for many of us. Yet, as the number of prescriptions written increases, so too do the problems related to unwanted pharmaceuticals in the home.

Allowing unwanted pharmaceuticals to accumulate in homes increases the likelihood of accidental overdose, illegal diversion, and environmental contamination. It’s time to commit to a solution that works.

The Take Back Solution
Take-back programs provide a safe way for people to remove unwanted medications from their homes.

Existing take-back programs vary widely as to how they are organized and funded. Many happen only a couple days each year. Some local law enforcement agencies have installed permanent drop boxes in their buildings. With the recent withdrawal of federal DEA support, many programs are struggling to find funding to continue this important public service.

A new federal rule for the disposal of unwanted controlled substances allows pharmacies to run their own take-back programs, a convenient option for consumers. However, the new DEA rule does not provide any funding to make participation easier.

Both law enforcement and pharmacy-based take-back programs are severely limited by a lack of consistent funding. While voluntary take-backs are a step in the right direction, these programs simply aren’t enough.

Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR), also known as product stewardship, describes a system where the life cycle costs of a product become part of the cost of manufacturing. EPR is a proven method to sustainably fund the recycling or disposal of fluorescent lights, mercury thermostats, paint, mattresses, household batteries, and other products.

Why, then, is EPR the best solution for pharmaceuticals?

1. Proven
EPR is already being successfully implemented for pharmaceuticals in many European countries as well as some Canadian Provinces. In British Columbia (BC), for instance, 97.5% of pharmacies participate in a drug take-back program due to a solid EPR foundation. These locations collected a total of 112,888 pounds of pharmaceuticals in one year alone, equaling out to 0.02 pounds of meds collected per person. For comparison, Oregon, a state with a similar population but without an EPR program, collected only 0.004 pounds of meds per person in one year, a rate five times lower than British Columbia’s.

2. Economical
A coordinated EPR approach lowers collection and disposal costs per pound. The pharmaceutical EPR program in France, for example, collects an average of 16,237 tons per year, at a cost of just $0.0022 per box. Funded entirely by pharmaceutical manufacturers and run by the non-profit group Cyclamed, this French program is highly effective in collecting unwanted pharmaceuticals. In a recent survey, 77% of French residents claimed to have disposed of unwanted medication via these take-back sites, while 70% said they “always” dispose of pharmaceuticals in this way.

3. Stable
Unlike the current patchwork of funding used by U.S. programs, an EPR program provides secure, long-term funding. The aforementioned program in British Columbia started their mandatory Medications Return Program in 1996 with a program revamp in 2004. The pharmaceutical industry, therefore, has been funding the entire cost of the program for over 19 years.

4. Ready to Go
Momentum is growing: Alameda County, CA; King County, WA; and San Francisco, CA have all adopted EPR laws. Despite having been willing EPR partners in other countries, pharmaceutical manufacturers have challenged the Alameda law in court. Considering the narrow grounds of the appeal and improvements made to subsequent iterations of the law, other communities will soon be passing pharmaceutical EPR laws.

Please consider promoting an EPR bill in your county or state. Each new EPR law brings us one step closer to a national program.

Ed Gottlieb is the Chair of the Coalition for Safe Medication Disposal in Tompkins County, NY. Ed can be contacted at egottlieb@cityofithaca.org. 

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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Gina McCarthy: A Blast from the Past, An Administrator for the Future

It was 1997. I was listening to Ron Driedger, an official from the British Columbia Ministry of the Environment, discuss during a keynote presentation how his agency required producers to pay for managing their post-consumer products. From paint to pharmaceuticals, Ron said, industry-funded take-back programs enabled cost-effective recycling and safe disposal of a range of consumer products. This decreased not only government spending, but also the potential for negative environmental impacts due to improper waste management.

I was intrigued.

As the Director of Waste Policy and Planning for the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs, and in the midst of writing the state’s solid waste master plan for my fourth time, I knew we needed new ideas—and quickly. So when I returned to the office, I told my boss that I wanted this producer responsibility waste management approach to be the United States’ chief import. I made the case that product stewardship policy could not only save governments millions of dollars, but also be good for the environment and create recycling jobs. Then, I went out on a limb even further: I proposed creating a new, national nonprofit organization focused on this new concept of product stewardship. One that would be the voice for state and local governments. One that would help spur economic growth and cut back on taxpayer costs. One that would work to benefit the environment by finding innovative solutions to managing post-consumer solid waste. And one that would get government and industry to work collaboratively toward a common goal.

My boss—Gina McCarthy—bought into the idea.

Well, okay. She actually told me to finish the solid waste plan, first. Then, she asked for a business plan.

It took months of discussion and multiple drafts of that business plan, but in the end, Gina followed through, providing the funding and support that I needed to start the Product Stewardship Institute.

Thirteen years later, Gina McCarthy is poised to become the next head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, having earned the nomination from President Barack Obama. And she brings exactly the type of leadership that EPA needs.

Gina is an innovator and, by extension, a supporter of innovation. When I started PSI, I had to overcome numerous roadblocks that a bevy of detractors (mostly people who saw PSI as a threat to their turf) set up for me. Gina, however, saw PSI as an opportunity. In fact, she became one of the first PSI board members, helping to guide and shape the nascent organization. She understood the balancing act we were playing between government, business, and environmental activists. She took a calculated risk, asked questions, and provided advice. She helped PSI move forward by making decisions based on sound information, thoughtful deliberation, and consideration of multiple viewpoints.

The EPA’s past support for product stewardship has been instrumental in PSI successes, too. This includes our national paint dialogue, which led to a major waste management agreement with the paint industry, as well as our pilot computer take-back project with Staples, which led to nationwide take-back programs by Staples, Best Buy, Office Depot, and Office Max.

Unfortunately, the EPA’s more recent approach to product stewardship has been tepid, and there have been missed opportunities. With Gina at the helm, though, I feel confident that she would breathe fresh life into that seemingly worn banner of “change” that was unfurled at the White house in the early days of the first administration. The EPA needs fresh ideas. It needs a fighter. It needs someone who will advocate for progressive environmental interests while tempering that passion with economic and political realities.

Gina is a kid from Boston with the street smarts to manage a bureaucracy that’s in the crosshairs of Congress. She’s the “anti-intellectual” who’s intelligent. She’s the tough regulator who knows when to cut a deal. She’s the baseball manager who kicks dirt on an umpire’s bad call but then goes out for beers with the umpires after the game. From local health official to state and federal regulator, Gina has climbed the ladder while maintaining close ties to business leaders and environmental groups.

I think the President made the right choice by nominating Gina. Let’s hope Congress does, too.

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Thought-Provoking Responses to my Blog Post on AMERIPEN’s EPR Position

Well, by golly. Our last blog entry has made quite a splash!

Ever since PSI shed light on AMERIPEN’s (draft) stance on Extended Producer Responsibility or EPR—the concept of having manufacturers bear the financial responsibility of recycling or safely disposing of their products after consumer use—I have been inundated with emails, phone calls, messages, and other “shout-outs” from people all across North America. While some responses have been quite negative (one said that PSI destroyed all its credibility and another said that the blog was harsh and insulting), most have been extremely positive—even congratulatory!

So, in the spirit of open communication and transparency, I wanted to share these comments—the good, the bad, and the ugly. By publishing them on PSI’s blog, I hope to give you a sense for both the temperature and the magnitude of the issue at hand. It’s clear that I have struck a chord with many people. Some took my blog as a personal attack, which was not intended. Nor was it intended to insult anyone. It was written because some of AMERIPEN’s members were saying one thing and then doing something completely different behind closed doors.

The only way to resolve our differences is to discuss them—frankly, openly, and freely—together. And if one way to make that happen is to keep the dialogue moving on PSI’s blog, well, then that’s what I will do.

With that, here are the comments I’ve received thus far. Please note that, to respect the privacy of those who do not wish to disclose their identities and/or affiliations publicly, I have omitted the authors’ names and the names of their respective companies/organizations.

“Good for you, my friend. Go after them. You are calling a spade, a spade. Congratulations.” —Emailed by the president of a recycling association

“Interesting.  But not sure AMERIPEN’s position is necessarily flawed.” —Emailed by the vice president of government relations for a North American recycler

“THANK YOU! for speaking up! GREAT information, although disturbing. You’re one of the things we’re especially thankful for during this Thanksgiving season, and all year long.  It was especially disturbing to me to see several of the Keep America Beautiful partners/sponsors on the Ameripen list.”  —Emailed by the coordinator of an environmental beautification program run by a county health department

Your recent blog post has caused some concern for [us]….there are statements in the blog that do not align with a collaborative nature. As a result, we fear that key companies for the EPR dialogue [in which PSI was to participate] may decline an invitation to participate when the dialogue is branded with PSI…We remain committed to improving material capture and the implementation of policy and practice that leads to that end. Your commitment to these goals is appreciated and we will seek opportunities in which we can cooperate with each other in the future. —Emailed by the executive director of a regional recycling association

“We (in the office) enjoyed and appreciated the blog very much. As a professional management organization, we need to be honest and include all data and its sources, all facts, including information that might not support our own perceptions or personal opinion. Once again, as a professional management organization, we need to be neutral. We believe in rigorous analysis and having the accurate data so that credible comparisons can be made.  Your blog raised questions, which is good, because the AMERIPEN position was not based on the right data. If you want someone to believe you and be a reference, you need to base your assertions on the best information you can have.  Once this process is done, the debate can start.” —Emailed by the representative from a stewardship organization

“This was very helpful, Scott.”  —Emailed by the president of a nationwide recycling organization

“Thanks for posting…not sure why such a position would be of benefit to them…perhaps arrogance.” —Emailed by a mattress recycler

“Here is great response to AMERIPEN’s position on EPR from Scott Cassel. It’s another reminder that PSI is fighting the battle every day for all of us! If you aren’t a member of PSI already you should be.”  —Emailed by the coordinator of a state product stewardship program

“Very well said, as always, Scott. It seems that as long as taxpayers accept that they are effectively subsidizing large corporations through their municipal solid waste programs, and consumers continue to buy products that are over-packaged in difficult-to-recycle materials without complaint, what do those corporations have to gain by coming to the table to accept their fair share of responsibility? Be encouraged at least by the fact that they felt the need to address the issue of EPR at all, albeit in a negative way. I think that is a good first step. Perhaps it is the public we need to engage with first, to get product manufacturers to finally come to the table.” —Posted by the executive director of a local recycling cooperative

“My impression… is that we have really bought into EPR for those hard-to-dispose-of items, such as electronics, mercury-containing thermostats, pharmaceuticals, etc. Don’t get me wrong; I truly believe EPR is the ultimate destination of our industry, but the story I tell our residents/my peers is from the standpoint of hard-to-dispose-of items. Probably we’re looking at the same animal from different vantage points.” —Emailed by a commercial recycling and city beautification coordinator

“Scott:  Congrats.  Another great post. I hope it lights a fire under some of the members! I will forward to my contacts at big brands who are Ameripen members…I heard there was an 8-3 policy vote on the EPR position.  Any idea who the three companies are that did not oppose EPR?  Thanks.” —Emailed by a senior program director of a national nonprofit focused on corporate social responsibility

“Thanks for the info. I am not a PSI member but have attended meetings. I work in a small industry that really has no choice but to engage in rule making, since we know we can’t stop it. I find PSI to be very balanced in this release. To me it’s obvious one of 2 or 3 facts must be in evidence with the packaging industry. They don’t trust the “agenda” of some of the stakeholders within PSI. Within industry, a public process can be a threat, and honest discussion can get a seasoned professional in trouble. They have determined while doing their EPR work they don’t not a way to advance the business and meet the anticipated criteria. If you’re a corporate officer you have legal duty to your stockholders. Maybe they did their work and see they have to resist in favor of profit: I infer that the Euro-scare part (must be from US) is based on this. They must think they can win. Maybe they don’t trust PSI, so PSI needs to work within their trade groups to build that trust – please note, this will be a more private forum. It seems clear to me think they can win or delay (delay is a win for stockholders). One think about business is that there are conservative: if they think there is a nightmare scenario buy not helping, they will help. Right now they do not know, and maybe they do know, where this will lead and its bad for them. So I think this is the key problem, they think they can hold it off, and have to, because they can’t justify it to the owners. I wish you luck. I think inevitability based on the case for recycling is your most powerful message. You tell them they can’t win.  Also, ask “what’s in it for them?” they are businesses after all. The cold fact is: government works mostly in the area of economic externalities like waste and pollution, while business work in internal economics, like profits. The external cost must be linked to the internal costs, obviously Extended Producer Responsibility is one way to do it. They may be rejecting that route for now.  A Machiavellian approach would be to find the weakest member of their coalition, the one who benefits most, and get them inside the tent.” —Emailed by a technical manager at a coatings manufacturing company

“Thanks Scott, I forwarded this to several others.”  —Emailed by a waste management specialist at a state recycling organization

“Scott: Nicely done.  I appreciate hearing about this and getting the link to the response on your blog.” —Emailed by the executive director of a biosolids recycling organization

“Hi Scott, I tweeted this from all (of our) Twitter accounts. I’ll post to (Facebook) shortly.” —Emailed by the director of a state chapter of a national environmental advocacy nonprofit

 “Great response. I just want to confirm that I can forward this to others outside the agency.” —Emailed by a statewide recycling program coordinator

“Good Job, Scott!” —Emailed by a North American post-consumer beverage container management organization

“The criticisms you level against AMERIPEN are precisely the ones that I would level against the recycling and EPR communities. You guys have no interest in assessing the reality of your claims by any kind of scientific measure. Your belief system is simply a religion, based on nothing substantial at all, and lots of misleading hype. You mention that recycling rates are stagnant but you are not prepared to explore the underlying reasons for that. The reasons are abundant and obvious: recycling is in idiotic approach to conservation, it is end of pipe, it is exploited by the garbage industry to increase garbage production and it has not got a prayer of ever becoming widely adopted unless governments impose it by force. The idea of instilling a new consciousness into the mind of every person on earth about green bins and purple bins and modes of separation is hopeless. And even if you could, you would not have one jot of influence on wasting behaviors since you have a primitive, simplistic notion of the sources of wasting. The only way to make progress in resource conservation comes from a production side approach, not a consumption side or end of pipe approach. The only concept that makes any sense is called Zero Waste meaning a redesign of production and commerce to design for perpetual reuse. You can read about it at http://www.zerowasteinstitute.org.  This approach HAS NOTHING WHATSOEVER to do with your bogus zero waste to landfill or with recycling or consumer side waste reduction. Those are hopeless approaches that have failed worldwide and will continue to fail everywhere. And EPR is even worse, being nothing but a device to move costs from cities to manufacturers. Many cities have stated this openly, but you cannot allow that interpretation so you continue to pretend that you are pushing a conservation theory, though there is not the slightest support for that in the approach.” —Posted by the founder of a zero waste nonprofit organization

“I’m sure Scott will have a more articulate response, but let me start.  You are missing the point.  Zero Waste and EPR are not mutually exclusive approaches, but rather EPR is one tool in the chest to achieve zero waste.  The recycling community is no stranger to Zero Waste, and we are fully aware that recycling is not the solution, but it IS a critical element to the solution.  We are living in the real world, not the ideal one that you envision.  If you think our approach of changing the behavior of humanity is hopeless, then how do you think we are going to get to corporations completely shifting their model of producing items that can be infinitely reused?  And what is wrong with shifting the costs of managing discarded materials from municipalities to the manufacturers that foist them on us? (yes, I work for municipalities)  If they are made to be responsible for the waste they create, then if they are truly trying to minimize their costs, they will find a way to put the materials that they have mined, purified and molded to their design back to use.  We in the recycling community have to deal with today’s realities, and that is where we have to start.  Paradigm shifts take a long time, but a journey of 1000 miles begins with a single step.” —Posted by the executive director of a local recycling cooperative in response to the comment above

 – Scott

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