Five years ago, the government members of the Product Stewardship Institute identified packaging and printed paper as the next priority waste stream. The reason was simple: recycling rates have stagnated for over a decade, the costs of managing garbage have risen, and recycling jobs continue to disappear into garbage trucks as valuable materials are carted off to landfills and incinerators.
These government officials have known for quite a while that they need a new strategy. And so, they did what government agencies always do: they earnestly attempted to engage the companies whose products and packaging cost taxpayers millions of dollars in waste management fees each year—dollars that might otherwise be used to hire teachers, firemen, and police. Unfortunately, most of those companies did not participate in PSI-facilitated multi-stakeholder discussions to which they were invited. And many refused to take part in other collaborative efforts.
Fast forward to today, and we see that very little has changed. We at PSI have recently learned that AMERIPEN—the U.S. lobbying arm for Procter & Gamble, Colgate-Palmolive, ConAgra Foods, General Mills, Owens-Illinois, Kellogg Company, Tetra Pak, and other companies—has developed an internal policy statement on EPR that, in short, disparages EPR and its supporters.
Yet, what is perhaps most dubious is that AMERIPEN crafted this position statement before completing its own EPR research. This indicates several things: that AMERIPEN is fearful of facts, dismissive of government interests, and unable to have a meaningful conversation with those with whom they disagree.
The following is a list of some of the most misleading statements that AMERIPEN makes in its internal position paper:
Misleading Statement #1:
AMERIPEN states that: “We are working in collaboration with the states, and this work should be allowed to progress before embarking on the type of radical systemic change that would be created by a packaging EPR program.”
AMERIPEN has only invited two state officials and one local official to participate in its meetings. PSI, which represents the varied interests of 47 states and hundreds of local governments on product stewardship issues, has offered to facilitate discussion with a representative government group, but AMERIPEN has not agreed to engage.
Misleading Statement #2:
AMERIPEN states that: “The group’s intent is to assess the unique recovery and EPR programs across the globe using a non-biased, fact-based approach.”
AMERIPEN’s own EPR research team has refused to collaborate with PSI. How can AMERIPEN produce a non-biased, fact-based report when it has already come to the anti-EPR conclusion stated in its draft policy? By contrast, PSI has conducted its research on EPR programs in a fully transparent fashion through another North American industry association of brand owners, retailers, recyclers, and other businesses seeking to reduce packaging waste.
Misleading Statement #3:
AMERIPEN states that: “…much of the current discussion does little to advance potentially useful goals that focus on environmental outcomes; rather, it centers on simply changing the responsibility of who recovers municipal waste… AMERIPEN believes in broader discussions that truly consider overall program objectives…”
AMERIPEN’s statement mischaracterizes the nature of the discussions taking place in the U.S. and its focus on environmental outcomes. The EPR movement would not have been started in the U.S. if recycling rates were not stagnant. AMERIPEN has refused numerous invitations to engage in exactly the type of broad discussion it says it wants – one focused on reaching overall system goals. PSI has repeatedly tried to engage AMERIPEN members in a discussion about their view of the problem, their overall goals, the barriers to achieving those goals, and a comprehensive set of potential strategies to consider (including voluntary initiatives, EPR, and other regulatory approaches).
Misleading Statement #4:
AMERIPEN states that: “There is currently no clear EPR model in existence that is designed for the U.S.”
There are many U.S. EPR models for other products, numerous EPR models for packaging and printed paper around the world, and several U.S. EPR models for packaging and printed paper that have been developed by PSI, Recycling Reinvented, and others. AMERIPEN cannot refuse to discuss whether and how those models might work, and then complain that there are no models. In the U.S., our goal should be to develop a basic model that balances stakeholder interests in a broad fashion, and then leaves it up to the stakeholders in each state to flesh out the details based on geographic variation and preference. Some states might prefer an EPR approach as part of a comprehensive strategy, while others prefer a purely voluntary approach. Even states taking an EPR approach will likely seek a variety of complementary strategies.
Misleading Statement #5:
AMERIPEN states that: “…research on programs currently in place around the globe demonstrate that the goals of an EPR system in the U.S. will probably not be met…”
AMERIPEN’s statement relies on two flawed studies – one conducted by the Grocery Manufacturers Association and the other by the Product Management Alliance, both of which hired the same consulting firm, SAIC, to piece together bits of data to produce the anti-EPR conclusions that their clients wanted. These studies make their own assumptions about the goals of EPR programs without asking those who advocate for, and run, those programs, then claim that their (SAIC’s) assumed goals are not being met. EPR programs are being proposed to boost recycling, reduce waste, create recycling jobs, save taxpayers money, and solve problems that have existed for decades. Packaging EPR laws have been passed in over 30 European countries over the past 20 years, as well as in four Canadian provinces (with the others to follow in the next few years), Israel, Japan, South Korea, Brazil, and other countries. These programs would not be spreading and perceived as successful if their goals were not being met.
Misleading Statement #6:
AMERIPEN states that: “A key consideration in the U.S. is to balance the drivers and intended outcomes of an improved recovery system… Any state considering improving its recovery system must define and align critical outcomes before advancing a solution.”
The basic job of any state and local government official is to balance the multiple interests of companies, environmental groups, and their citizens. AMERIPEN’s statement implies that states have not yet figured out the basic outcomes they seek. In fact, most states know exactly what outcomes they want to achieve, and an increasing number of states have publicly stated, often in published solid waste master plans from up to a decade ago, that EPR is a main part of their overall waste management strategy.
Misleading statement #7:
AMERIPEN states that: “We are committed to increasing recycling and recovery rates in the U.S. through collaboration and teamwork among key stakeholders, by bringing more efficiency into our existing system, and incorporating best practices, all without the financial and administrative burden of an EPR system.”
This statement sums up the problem with AMERIPEN’s EPR policy. I have not met a stakeholder group that does not want to increase recycling, increase efficiency, and incorporate best practices. However, AMERIPEN will not achieve these goals without involving a significant number of local and state government officials who manage the existing diverse and complex system. By engaging with these officials, AMERIPEN will better understand those systems and their challenges. AMERIPEN’s strategy to optimize the current system is certainly a worthy approach. Unfortunately, they have yet to articulate what policies or programs they believe will optimize the system. In addition, if solely optimizing the current system could solve the problem, it would have been done long ago.
I also have not encountered a program without financial and administrative burdens. Managing waste is a significant burden to taxpayers and government, but not the same burden to manufacturers and consumers. What is completely lacking in AMERIPEN’s policy is an acknowledgement of their role and responsibility for reducing the external costs of their products on taxpayers who spend billions of dollars every year to cart their packaging to landfills and incinerators. Also lacking is an understanding of the hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars that governments have already spent to develop and maintain the current recycling system. AMERIPEN cannot talk about financial and administrative burdens without understanding how those burdens are currently allocated. It is far easier for AMERIPEN to oppose efforts to internalize the true costs that their products impose on taxpayers rather than engage in collaborative discussions to alleviate those costs and impacts. What they might find, however, is that in-depth collaboration can actually satisfy their own interests in obtaining a low-cost, high quality, consistent stream of recycled materials. Only real collaboration will result in true innovation.
AMERIPEN members comprise many multi-billion dollar companies that, for the most part, are led by packaging experts. Unfortunately, these same people do not understand solid waste management. AMERIPEN has convinced itself of a solution while shutting out any possibility that they may be wrong. By closing themselves off to new information from those who are truly experts in managing waste, AMERIPEN’s members have operated from a place of fear and, unfortunately, ignorance.
AMERIPEN has driven its stake into the ground, and then told the rest of us to go take a hike while they fix the problem. How much longer should we wait? There is little hope that recycling for packaging and printed paper will increase in the U.S. to the extent needed unless AMERIPEN’s member companies, as well as other non-AMERIPEN companies, understand that they have something important to learn from others, and become willing to engage in a reasonable discussion with those with whom they disagree.
I believe in the ability of people with different viewpoints to come together and find common ground. I have experienced it many times, and I am not immune to major changes in perspective myself. But it takes a willingness to be proven wrong, and a confidence and ability to show others why you think you are right. AMERIPEN’s new EPR policy illustrates that it currently lacks both.
AMERIPEN Member Companies
- Amcor, Manufacturer – Packaging
- Anheuser-Busch LLC, Manufacturer – Packaged Goods
- Ball Corporation, Manufacturer – Packaged Goods
- Bemis, Manufacturer – Packaged Goods
- Colgate-Palmolive Company, Manufacturer – Packaged Goods *
- ConAgra Foods, Manufacturer – Packaged Goods *
- DDL, Manufacturer – Packaged Goods
- DuPont Packaging & Industrial Polymers, Manufacturer – Raw Materials *
- Earth911, Recoverer
- ExxonMobil Chemical, Manufacturer – Raw Materials
- General Mills Inc, Manufacturer –Packaged Goods
- H. J. Heinz Company, Manufacturer –Packaged Goods
- Kellogg Company, Manufacturer – Packaged Goods *
- McDonald’s, Retailer – Packaged Goods
- MWV, Manufacturer – Raw Materials *
- NatureWorks LLC, Retailer – Manufacturer – Raw Materials
- Owens Illinois, Inc., Manufacturer – Packaging
- PaperWorks Industries, Manufacturer – Packaging
- PARC Corporation, Recoverer
- PepsiCo, Manufacturer – Packaged Goods
- Procter & Gamble, Manufacturer – Packaged Goods *
- Saint-Gobain Containers, Inc., Manufacturer – Packaging
- Sealed Air Corporation, Manufacturer – Packaging *
- Sonoco, Manufacturer – Packaging
- Tetra Pak, Inc., Manufacturer – Packaging *
- The Coca-Cola Company, Manufacturer – Packaged Goods *
- The Dow Chemical Company, Manufacturer – Raw Materials *
- The Hershey Company, Manufacturer – Packaged Goods
- Waste Management, Inc., Recoverer