Tag Archives: Canada

America the Fearful: Why We Need U.S. Corporate Leadership

Flying high above the Atlantic on my way home from a week of travels to Canada and Scotland, I pondered how America can be such a powerful world leader in technology, the economy, and the military, but so unenlightened regarding trash. We pride ourselves on innovation, bold risk-taking, fierce independence, and toughness. Yet, we are well behind our Canadian and European comrades regarding strategies to turn our country’s waste problem into an opportunity to recover valuable materials, create recycling jobs, and reduce costs. In fact, our corporations display a fear and trepidation of the future that is downright troubling.

What is so disappointing is that most corporations selling products into the U.S. market are operating within much more sophisticated solid waste programs than we have in the U.S. Although we have made progress in managing some problem wastes (e.g., electronics, mercury thermostats and lighting, and paint), the Canadians and Europeans have us beat in so many product areas, particularly packaging.

In Ottawa, Ontario, I moderated and presented on a panel called “Policy Shaping the Landscape” at the PAC NEXT annual conference that PSIco-sponsored. In front of several hundred corporate powerhouses like Unilever, P&G, Nestle, Walmart, Kraft, and Target, my fellow panelists and I discussed the mix of strategies needed to manage all packaging waste in Canada by 2015 – voluntary industry initiatives, extended producer responsibility (EPR), and other regulations. That same conversation is not yet happening in the U.S. And the U.S. representatives of those same corporate powerhouses are avoiding even having that conversation.

September 28, 2012—Scott Cassel speaks at PAC NEXT in Ottawa, Ontario.

As our first session panelist, Michael Goeres, executive director of the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment (CCME), provided the context for Canada’s national focus on packaging. According to Goeres, it started in 1989 with the National Task Force on Packaging. The issue reignited during the debate on packaging EPR that started in 2000. And it resurfaced, yet again, with the 2009 Canada-wide Action Plan for Extended Producer Responsibility and Canada-wide Strategy for Sustainable Packaging,which created a central platform on which to implement EPR laws throughout Canada by 2015. Goeres also discussed CCME’s initiative to work with industry to reduce packaging waste, which culminated in the recent announcement of the Design Guidelines for Sustainable Packaging, a voluntary joint initiative between Éco Entreprises Québec (a PSI Sustaining Partner) and the Sustainable Packaging Coalition.

In contrast to our Canadian counterparts, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) does not consider waste management to be a federal government issue, but rather a state and local government issue. After a request from state and local agency officials to help solve the growing waste problem, the EPA held five meetings on packaging waste between 2010 and 2011 and even released a report. However, it pulled out soon thereafter, leaving regional EPA branches to follow up.

September 28, 2012—PAC NEXT panelists at Chateau Laurier in Ottawa, Ontario.

The next speaker on our panel, John Coyne, is a Unilever vice president and chairman of Stewardship Ontario, the industry-led product stewardship organization that takes pride in its implementation of Ontario’s six-year old Blue Box EPR program. Of the 1,500 businesses represented by Stewardship Ontario, John said:  “…we are dedicated to supporting our member companies’ drive to innovate – to contribute to making their businesses, packaging, and products more environmentally sustainable and more readily recyclable. We lead through development and investment.”

Here are a few other things he said:

  • “By any measure, the Blue Box is defined and regarded as both a success and a symbol…75 percent of Ontario residents say they consider the Blue Box their primary pro-environment effort …People like it. It makes them feel good about their contribution. More importantly, people use it.
  • “By embracing innovation, by harnessing creativity, by building on our achievements and accomplishments, we aim to be a global leader in responsible product stewardship. At all times, we never lose sight of the fact that our primary job is to meet collection and diversion targets and to prevent waste from filling landfills and fouling waterways.”
  • “We need to ensure that the success of the Blue Box fuels further innovation – which, in turn, will help make the program even more successful.”

Ironically, many of the same companies that are members of Stewardship Ontario are also members of the U.S-based Grocery Manufacturers Alliance (GMA), which hired the consulting firm SAIC to issue a report last month that criticized the Blue Box EPR program as inefficient and ineffective. Go figure.

The last speaker on my panel, Meegan Armstrong of the British Columbia Ministry of the Environment, touted the province’s commitment to manage, by 2017, all products under an EPR system that promotes private sector initiative and innovation.

As if that three-speaker session was not enough of a contrast with the U.S., next, I spoke on a panel at the Scottish Waste and Resources Conference in Glasgow, Scotland, where my fellow panelists and I discussed the interplay between voluntary and regulatory solutions.

Oct. 3, 2012 — Scott Cassel speaks in Glasgow, Scotland about PSI’s experience forging agreements between stakeholders for both voluntary and regulatory product stewardship programs.

The Scottish government has just introduced packaging regulations that are more aggressive than the existing packaging law in place in the U.K., of which Scotland is a part. However, Zero Waste Scotland, an independent organization funded by the Scottish government, is tasked with implementing the packaging law through both EPR and voluntary solutions. The recycling rate in the U.K. far exceeds that of the U.S., but—to Scotland—that rate is unacceptably low. They want to do more.

America, we have a problem. If our corporations continue to refuse even to have the discussion with other U.S.-based stakeholders about how we are to reduce waste, save taxpayers money, create recycling jobs, and achieve our joint objectives by both voluntary and regulated solutions, then we will have no one to blame but ourselves for wasting economic opportunities.

As Americans, we should be leading in the creation of innovative waste management solutions, as we do in other areas of the economy, rather than burying our future in the rubble of our own fear.

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EPR for Packaging in the U.S. – the Landscape

It is widely known that the route to producer responsibility in the U.S. has been markedly different from the route taken in Europe and, to a degree, Canada. In the U.S., issues were prioritized based largely on toxicity. When the Product Stewardship Institute (PSI) held its first national product stewardship forum in 2000, we asked state and local solid waste management officials across the country what they considered their biggest waste management problems. By far, the number one issue was electronics, followed by mercury products and paint. For this reason, in the U.S., we focused on these products as the top issues.

Europe, however, started with Germany’s packaging law in 1990. Over the past 20 years, more than 30 European countries have adopted extended producer responsibility (EPR) programs for packaging. Four Canadian provinces have now enacted packaging EPR laws. And the U.S. is still building the groundwork for action.

Here is how the landscape is shaping up for EPR for packaging in the U.S.  Proponents of EPR include, not surprisingly, state and local government agencies that started the U.S. product stewardship movement. However, all governments are interested, not just those in progressive states. The cost of managing waste has become a big issue for government, and they are ready to act. Governments are interested in saving money, but are also concerned about the loss of control over the collection of recyclables from households. PSI has been convening its state and local government members to figure out the type of EPR system they want as a model in the U.S.  Other EPR supporters are, also not surprisingly, environmental groups. And that is where the current support for EPR for packaging and printed materials stands at the moment.

There are some exceptions among industry. Nestle Waters North America (NWNA) has stepped out as a major proponent of EPR, and PSI is working with them, among many others. NWNA wants to show that EPR can result in increased supply of recycled materials on par with the rates achieved by beverage deposit laws. This position is not to be confused with the position of others in the beverage industry that developed the EPR packaging bill in Vermont in 2010 that included EPR only if the state’s 40-year old container deposit law was repealed. That strategic misstep has confused many people into believing that EPR is synonymous with a repeal of the bottle bill, and has created great animosity among stakeholders. But it has gotten people talking.

“If success is measured by the achieved recycling levels, then member states with strong producer responsibility systems have successfully increased overall rates.” 2005 European Commission Study on Packaging Waste and Options to Strengthen Prevention and Re-use of Packaging

Consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies have, for the most part, been uninterested in engaging in a discussion about EPR for packaging in the U.S., even though their counterparts are operating under the exact same systems in Europe and Canada. Sierra Fletcher, our Director of Policy and Programs and I spent four meetings over nine months with representatives from P&G, Kraft, Unilever, Colgate-Palmolive, ConAgra, and other CPG companies in meetings held by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. These companies, in general, believe that we can increase recycling significantly solely by optimizing the current system. In my ten years of engaging brand owners in EPR, we know that this is a necessary step in the process because the existing system can always be made more efficient, and that reduces cost. But it is always only a stage in the process of moving toward an understanding that EPR, and perhaps other systems, are also needed. Only two CPG companies – Estee Lauder and SC Johnson – have engaged PSI in a real discussion on EPR. Estee Lauder is a big fan. SC Johnson does not believe it is the right solution.

The rest of the stakeholder groups are in learning mode, and this is who PSI is talking to.

End users of glass, plastic, paper, aluminum, and other metals – so called commodities – have started to warm to the idea of learning about EPR. The Association of Post-Consumer Plastics Recyclers invited me to speak at its annual meeting in June. I found an engaged and interested group of plastics recyclers that were desperate for ways to increase the recycling of plastics. They want more supply of high quality recycled plastics at the best possible price. They are looking at all solutions, and their staff and policy committee smartly have begun to learn about EPR and how it can help them. Have they embraced EPR whole-hog? No. But do they think EPR might be part of the solution for more business and more jobs. Absolutely.

Plastics recyclers are leading the commodity groups in understanding that quantity, quality, and price can possibly be achieved by EPR. But aluminum is not far behind. I just got back from a trip to Chicago where the Aluminum Association had its annual meeting. I spoke to aluminum industry executives about what EPR is and isn’t, and how EPR and the bottle bill can live together or apart but that the decision should be up to the brand owner as to how they will meet aggressive performance goals. Aluminum industry representatives asked all the right questions, and we have begun a healthy discussion.

Representatives of glass and paper commodities are still warming to the idea of even having an in-depth discussion about EPR. But PSI is talking to them as well. A key concern of the paper industry is why they should face the potential transactional costs of a shift to EPR when their material is already recycled at a high rate.

We are also having discussions with waste management companies, which view EPR as a potential threat to their business models. These companies have invested in recycling and waste disposal trucks and facilities, and in a business strategy that will need to be flexible to respond to the changes ahead with EPR.

Other groups are pushing the conversation as well. The newly formed PAC-NEXT, based in Canada but working with retailers, CPG companies, and related businesses that operate across North America, has invited PSI to engage with its corporate members with the goal of helping the packaging industry transition toward a world without packaging waste. PSI is co-chairing a PAC-NEXT project to develop best practices for post-consumer material recovery, including EPR, which will lead toward harmonization of programs in North America. And Future 500 out of San Francisco is selectively engaging stakeholders on EPR in the U.S.

Packaging and printed materials is a product area that is much different from others we have tackled in the U.S. – yet at the same time it shares with other products the fact that our traditional waste management system has relied on the patchwork of local and state governments to clean up after us. A solution will not be achieved overnight, but we are starting to build it. There are many stakeholders with multiple interests that need to be melded into a cohesive agreement that is sustainable. These stakeholders are not at the same place in their interest and willingness to develop a model EPR bill in the U.S. But these discussions are taking place, and coalitions are forming.

But the first thing that needs to happen is that people learn the facts, and that is where PSI is spending its time – educating all stakeholders about EPR so that they understand how EPR will result in less waste, more recycling, more jobs for the recycling industry, and lower costs for government. This is all about how good government and the right regulations CREATE jobs. It is time for this reality to be heard loud and clear in America.

Check out the article in Plastics News reporting on my presentation to the plastics recycling industry. Although there are a few factual errors in the article, it will give you a good sense of what I said, and about how EPR can increase material supply and quality, and lower costs.

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It’s Dark Down There: More Reasons to Recycle

Below is a blog post by Tom Rhoads, Executive Director of the Onondaga County Resource Recovery Agency in New York State in preparation for the PSI Networking Webinar, “Promoting the Extraction of Virgin Materials: How Subsidies Impact Product Sustainability,” on Wednesday, June 15th (2:00-3:30 p.m. EST). Please join us for the dialogue.

We can never get too many good news stories in this day and age. The Chilean miners’ rescue is certain to be one of the top stories of the year for 2010. I was born in a mine town, and although I never spent a full day working underground, I have toured several deep mines. The darkness is absolute when the lights go off. You literally cannot see your hand in front of your face. To be trapped thousands of feet underground is, for me, incomprehensible. To carry any faith in rescue after days of no contact was marvelous and probably a genuine life saver.

I recently read that these miners were harvesting copper ore that was less than one percent copper. Copper is a common metal, but its value has risen enough to drive men 2,300 feet below the earth’s surface. In previous accidents at this very same mine, men died for ore with one percent copper.

Many other metals and minerals are hotly pursued across the globe. Mines in remote Canada and Indonesia have become targets of billion dollar investment takeovers. China made recent world news and sent ripples down economic spines when it declared a suspension to the export of so-called rare earth minerals (those needed in everyday electronics, communication devices, and high-tech batteries and magnets common to many tools and most high-efficiency transportation.)

Can you guess where I am headed? In the United States, only about 60 percent of the U.S. population even has access to basic curbside recycling for containers and printed materials. (USEPA, 2008). In New York, I travel through several areas that offer no curbside recycling for packages, containers, and printed materials. Zero recycling. You see, recycling and recycling infrastructure have a cost. That cost is in addition to the cost of trash disposal. The regional agency I work for, the Onondaga County Resource Recovery Agency (OCRRA), uses the revenues we earn from trash disposal and recovered energy from the trash to pay for the entire program. OCRRA’s disposal fee is more than the cost of landfill disposal, but OCRRA’s tipping fee covers the costs and benefits of Household Hazardous Waste Events, recycling infrastructure, battery collections, free recycling assistance and supplies for businesses, Earth Day Litter Clean-Up, OCRRA’s newsletter, and much, much, more. Even the curbside blue bin for recyclables is paid for with the trash disposal tipping fee. The cost of these programs puts pressure on OCRRA’s tipping fee and the resources of many other local governments providing similar programs. And as we continue to reduce the amount of trash through waste reduction and recycling programs, OCRRA (like many other local governments) is actually penalized for its recycling efforts with reduced revenue in its primary funding source – trash disposal fees.

We constantly reflect on how to pay for waste reduction and recycling programs. But there is a better question to consider: what does it cost us not to recycle? When we send miners into remote and deadly environments, because it costs a little more up front to develop recycling infrastructure, is that really the way to keep score? If China has a lock on minerals needed for the next generation of economic growth or energy-efficient technology, can our children (and their children) really afford us tossing away cell phones, batteries, or old electronics that are far richer in mineral content than ore from a mine?

I hope you agree that these and other similar questions need to be asked when we discuss the cost to recycle, or how to pay for a system that places a priority on reduction, reuse, recycling, and recovery before landfilling.  Extended Producer Responsibility laws for e-waste have been tremendous vehicles to fund e-waste recycling infrastructure across the U.S. EPR strategies also have worked in Canada and Europe for other recyclables as well – including packaging and printed materials.

The faith of the Chilean miners to be rescued was probably their life saver. Faith in rescue, leadership during the crisis, oh yeah – and a $20,000,000 rescue effort watched by the world for 69 days; those were the story lines in Chile in 2010. Perhaps we can also consider that product stewardship by the manufacturer (thereby better engaging the consumer) for waste reduction and recycling is the form of leadership needed to avoid another crisis-making headline in the future.

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