Tag Archives: AMERIPEN

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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7 Reasons Why AMERIPEN’s Stance on EPR is Flawed

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:

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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.”

PSI’s Take:

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.

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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.” 

PSI’s Take:

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.

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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…”

PSI’s Take:

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).

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Misleading Statement #4:

AMERIPEN states that: “There is currently no clear EPR model in existence that is designed for the U.S.”

PSI’s Take:

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.

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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…”

PSI’s Take:

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.

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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.”

PSI’s Take:

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.

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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.”

PSI’s Take:

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.

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The Conclusion

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.

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AMERIPEN Member Companies

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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.

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