Tag Archives: environment

Help reduce paper use with one click


Unwanted phone books are not only a nuisance, but also a waste: the industry uses about 14 football fields’ worth of forest per day. They are also a burden on governments and taxpayers, who pay nearly $60 million annually to get rid of phone books.

It’s time to stop phone book delivery at the source.

Share our video with your networks to encourage others to opt out, and visit http://www.phonebookoptout.us/go to stop phone book delivery.

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A is for Accountability: First in the Phone Book?

phonebookwithfingers.pgBy Scott Cassel, Chief Executive Officer & Founder, Product Stewardship Institute

My father was a small businessman. He ran a four-person employment agency called Able Careers in Hackensack, New Jersey, and was proud of the jobs he got for his people. Each week, I watched him meticulously cut his advertisements out of the newspaper to make sure they were displayed correctly. And, of course, he was listed in the Yellow Pages. Able Careers was right at the top of the A column in the book under Employment Agencies.

That was then. When multiple phone books were stacked on everyone’s desk, and they were the bible for people, places, and things.

I don’t need to tell you that those days are over. But what has not stopped is the continuous printing and distribution of these books, which are often unwanted and not needed. Apparently, directory publishers have not found a way to match the advertising revenue over the internet that they make on printed directories. So they make them, and dump them on our doorsteps.

About ten years ago, PSI and our local and state government members educated the industry about how these books cost local governments about $60 million in management costs. Whether recycled or disposed, there is a cost to deal with phone books. And taxpayers pick up the tab for the industry. To their credit, and in response to PSI’s requests, the phone book industry developed an online system for residents to opt out of receiving the books. Unfortunately, PSI is still receiving citizen complaints. Only two publishers track opt out requests, and no one knows if they are being honored.

We asked the industry to discuss this with us. But, ever since they won a lawsuit against the City of Seattle, which wanted the industry to pay for developing its more robust opt out system a few years back, the industry association has shut down. They have stonewalled us.

In 2014, PSI decided to grade directory publishers on their sustainability efforts in three categories: opt out (including transparency); sustainable production (paper, ink); and recycling (education/financing). The Local Search Association (LSA) responded by not addressing any of the information in our report card, instead putting out a sustainability report that made unsubstantiated claims.

This year, we figured we would give the industry another chance to redeem themselves, and let them know we were again going to create a Sustainability Report Card to seek industry best practices on phone book sustainability.

Again, we were stonewalled. The response to our well researched report, delivered by Wesley Young of the LSA, was a flimsy infographic claiming that publishers reduced paper use over their lifetime and claiming an inflated recycling rate that they did not substantiate. Keep America Beautiful’s Brenda Pulley joined the LSA’s greenwashing efforts with a quote supporting them as a great partner (LSA funds KAB as a sponsor in the $5,000-$9,999 category).

Those of us in the environmental business know that there are entrenched interests, like directory publishers, who want to uphold the status quo and do not want outside forces, like PSI, meddling with their business. We are used to the climate change deniers, who would rather drown from melting icecaps than make decisions using sound data.

We expect this from dying industries like the LSA that cling to outdated ideas and fail to innovate. But what is their responsibility to you, the rest of America, which has to pay the price of phone books that are dumped on your doorstep?

Let’s face it, phone books are not the Number 1 environmental priority. I know that. They know that. But is this the way that industries should respond when presented with the fact that they are harming us? Why do we have to clean up their mess? And when we offer to help them, why are we met with greenwashing that evades the issues?

PSI has taken action. We have gathered the facts, which point to changes needed by publishers, even as some are following best practices. And we have presented them to you.

Now, what are you going to do about it?

Let Neg Norton at the LSA know what you think of his industry’s greenwashing. And while you’re at it, let Jennifer Jehn know that their funding from the LSA isn’t worth the harm it does to Keep America Beautiful’s reputation. Thank you.

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The Movement and Its People – Two PSI staff move on

The June 2012 edition of Inc. magazine contains an interview with author Jim Collins about how to grow a great company. In the piece, Collins highlights how a few of the great leaders, like Yvon Chouinard, the founder of Patagonia, have turned their company into a movement. Chouinard developed rock climbing equipment to reduce the impact that he and fellow climbers have on the environment. His company helped start a movement that motivated the climbing community.

“A movement springs up around a cause,” says Collins in the Inc. article. Product stewardship is such a movement, and its cause is to help our society live within our material means by holding companies responsible for reducing the environmental and social impact from the products they make and sell. The Product Stewardship Institute is part of this wider movement.

Sierra Fletcher

But movements are comprised of people, and PSI has been blessed with some truly amazing individuals who have chosen to apply their skills and passion to serve the greater public good while working with our team. This month, Sierra Fletcher, PSI’s Director of Policy and Programs, and Kate Hagemann, an Associate, will be moving on. After five years at PSI, Sierra will be moving back to her home state of Maine, where she will work for the Environmental Health Advocacy Center as a legislative advocate at the state and federal level on toxics policy. Kate has enrolled at Yale University for a Masters Degree in environmental policy where she will take up her interest in lifecycle assessment that was cultivated at PSI. Both have been critical to the success of PSI, and they will be sorely missed.

While PSI has been on the front lines of reducing the health and environmental impacts from consumer products, we have also been conscious of our role as a place for young and talented individuals to find a home for their passions. We have created jobs that did not exist 20 or 30 years ago.

Kate Hagemann

But as an organization that is part of a movement, we understand that movements do not stand still, but are dynamic. People come and go. While we will miss Sierra and Kate, we know that they will carry their experience from PSI on to their next gig, leaving a space for the next passionate, smart person who is ready to contribute to the product stewardship movement.

Change can truly be an opportunity for growth. PSI’s staff changes have given us the chance to reflect on our successes, challenges, and the road ahead. There is much more for us to do together, and we are ready to craft the new team, and know that you are all there by our side.

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Recycling Jobs: Who Really Cares?

For once, there was good news about jobs. Real American jobs.

The front page headline of The Boston Globe’s business section on April 16 read: “Recycling industry poised for hiring.” The article highlighted the recent report by the Environmental Business Council, MassRecycle, and SkillWorks (a nonprofit that funds workforce initiatives) that predicts the growth of over 1,200 recycling jobs in Massachusetts in the private sector alone. This growth would be added to the 14,000 current recycling jobs in 2,000 Massachusetts companies with a payroll approaching $500 million annually.

Wow! Such great news. Finally, business, government, and environmental groups should be swinging arm in arm, humming This Land is Your Land.

Let’s take it a step further. Extended producer responsibility (EPR) laws create recycling jobs by signaling to investors that the supply of recycled materials will be available. In the first year of E-Cycle programs in Washington and Oregon, three new processing and recycling facilities opened. Implementation of their E-Cycle programs resulted in electronics collection and processing job growth of 64%, supporting 360 jobs or 12.6 jobs per 1,000 tons of electronics processed, well above the less than 1 job per 1,000 tons from traditional disposal. Collection rates rose to 38.5 million pounds in Washington and 19 million pounds in Oregon.

Since EPR laws increase material supply and recycling, businesses should be loving EPR too, right?

Then why would the Hartford Business Journal equate the 2012 Connecticut mattress EPR bill as bad for business? About EPR, the Journal says: “If you think about the logical extensions of that doctrine, the world as we know it ends.” They are not being kind. Of course those of us working on EPR know that the world as we know it must change. We cannot continue to waste resources and place the burden on government and taxpayers.

But the Journal shows how different many in the business community view EPR. They acknowledge the problem that mattresses cannot be disposed of in landfills and incinerators, and that it costs a great deal to manage them properly. And they acknowledge that the bill would create jobs, citing companies ready to set up shop in the state, the way that a paint recycler immediately announced plans to come to the state after Connecticut passed its 2011 paint EPR law.

But they object to businesses being held responsible for resolving the problem. “Somewhere the responsibility of the individual user has been lost in a nanny-state fantasy that business is responsible for all ills…Isn’t this exactly the kind of big-picture societal problem that governments are supposed to solve?”

I want to thank the Journal for framing these questions. I really mean it. We now know where to start the discussion. Government is definitely not equipped to handle product waste by itself, despite their extensive expertise in waste management and recycling. Pure and simple – they do not have the funds. And it is not fair to ask all taxpayers to pay for the consumption of others.

EPR systems require that state and local governments, manufacturers, retailers, and consumers all play a role in the responsible management of products and the materials of which they are made. And, yes, individuals who buy the products should pay for their recycling or disposal, and producers should make it easy for those consumers by incorporating these costs into the product purchase price. Until the full cost of managing products is internalized, we will continue to have a nanny-state where government picks up the cost to dispose of products.

But why do businesses so vehemently resist the changes that many agree need to be made? What responsibility does the business community have in reducing environmental impacts and reducing government waste management costs that result in higher taxes?

On the other side, what is the extent of government’s reach? What added costs do governments impose because they are involved in ways that they should not be?

We all want jobs. We want a clean environment and a reasonable quality of life. Then why is it so hard to take responsibility for changes needed to bring about these outcomes? Are we just too darn stubborn to consider a change to our current situation, no matter how much better we have the power to make it? I really think that this is most of the challenge.

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An Award in the Present Triggers a Reflection on the Past

Yesterday, in Boston’s historic Faneuil Hall, I listened to a stirring rendition of the Star Spangled Banner by a high school student whose golden voice inspired angels to dance among the majestic white columns that lined The Great Hall.

I was invited to Faneuil Hall to accept an Environmental Merit Award that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency bestowed on the Product Stewardship Institute. I was honored to accept that award on behalf of PSI’s staff, members, and partners. And I was proud of our partner, the Northeast Recycling Council, which received an impressive Lifetime Achievement Award.

At the ceremony, I was inspired to hear of the achievements of individuals and organizations in the region, and it gave me time to reflect on what PSI does best, and the challenges we face. What those of us in the product stewardship movement are trying to do — change corporate behavior –is not easy. At stake is the Role of Government, whether that role is to assist industry in developing voluntary projects and agreements, or to develop legislation. PSI seeks to facilitate a healthy balance between regulation and free market enterprise.

Two of our most notable successes have been in partnership with the U.S. EPA.

One of those initiatives was a voluntary program, while the other resulted in model legislation. In 2004, under an EPA grant, PSI partnered with Staples to develop the first retail computer take-back program in the country. Chris Beling of EPA Region I was a diehard advocate for that project and contributed to its success. That voluntary pilot project ultimately led Staples to develop a nation-wide ewaste collection program. Other retailers selling computers and electronics have since followed with their own recycling programs.

The other notable initiative began in 2002, when EPA funded PSI to hold its first dialogue meeting with paint manufacturers, retailers, painting contractors, and government agencies. That first meeting turned into a national agreement, model legislation, and three state laws that require paint manufacturers to set up and fund a system to recycle leftover paint. The paint industry is the main engine behind the passage of these laws. The program will eventually save governments over half a billion dollars each year in paint management costs, create paint recycling jobs, and save valuable natural resources. Prior to the national agreement, PSI facilitated and managed eight voluntary projects funded jointly with nearly $2 million from government agencies and the paint industry. Barry Elman of EPA headquarters played a pivotal role in all phases of the project.

PSI is proud of its achievements to pass EPR legislation, but we also know that voluntary initiatives, as well as other government policies, have a role to play. Waste management requires solutions that are comprehensive and effective.

Thank you to the US EPA for acknowledging the Product Stewardship Institute’s achievements.

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Who Is PSI? An Introduction to Facilitative Leadership

PSI tackles the “elephant in the room”

PSI tackles the “elephant in the room”

Everyone and everything these days is being reinvented, reinvigorated, redesigned, and remade. It’s all about branding. Recycling is being reinvented as EPR…EPR is being reinvented as recycling. Many of those working on recycling containers, packaging, and printed materials are like those who finally found religion…they think their brand is the best.

Some believe that only voluntary efforts can work, while others believe only EPR can work. Some believe EPR only works on packaging but not products, while others believe the reverse. Some say that only toxic products should fall in an EPR system, others say only some packaging materials but not others. The state of recycling discussions in the U.S. today is exciting, but rudderless.

PSI has never wavered on who it is. For the past 11 years, PSI has served many in the world of recycling as a Facilitative Leader. We work to provide forums for the honest discussion of how to reduce the lifecycle health and environmental impacts from consumer products all along the product lifecycle. We don’t hold to a particular set of strategies for doing so but rather promote deliberative discussions to arrive at mutually agreeable solutions. We raise issues that need to be discussed, and we do not let any group dodge hard questions. We believe that sustainable solutions can only be reached by integrating the expertise of each key stakeholder. We base decisions on jointly developed data. We emphasize transparency and hold open meetings and calls. No group is locked out. We help stakeholders frame their own debate, and we help them manage the data and issues so that they make decisions and move forward on shared goals. We do not exclude ideas and strategies because they are unpopular. We tackle the “elephant in the room.”

PSI was a main force in bringing the product stewardship movement to the United States. Through thousands of presentations, webinars, dialogue meetings, and informational briefings, we helped build the capacity for product stewardship in 47 states and for thousands of local governments. We aim to identify trends, raise issues, develop solutions, implement strategies, and evaluate programs. We connect people into networks. We are not passive facilitators. We forge progress. We do not believe EPR alone is the answer. We believe that voluntary solutions and legislated solutions both have a place at the table.

As a facilitative leader, PSI succeeded in developing a national multi-stakeholder agreement on product stewardship.

PSI helped stakeholders reach a national agreement with paint manufacturers, retailers, painting contractors, the U.S. EPA, and multiple state and local government agencies.

In 2007, PSI helped stakeholders reach a national agreement with paint manufacturers, retailers, painting contractors, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and multiple state and local government agencies. This agreement has translated into three state laws and a national model, and is being rolled out nationwide to ensure a harmonized system. We did this through joint research, and raised nearly $2 million of public-private funding of pilot projects and initiatives that paved the way for the paint manufacturers to become true corporate leaders. The paint industry, through the American Coatings Association, has taken responsibility for managing leftover paint for the entire industry…over 64 million gallons each year. The agreement PSI helped forge is a huge win for paint recycling jobs, municipal budgets, and the environment. It will save U.S. municipalities about half a billion dollars each year in costs that they would have to pay if they were to properly manage all leftover paint.

Yes, paint is different from every other product. However, every product is different from every other product, or package. Each one requires its own strategies and solution — some voluntary, some regulated strategies, and some both. PSI has developed a process that has led to voluntary and regulated solutions on over 15 product categories.

According to the Facilitative Leadership Training Institute, facilitative leaders prefer dialogue to debate and understand the values beneath an opinion instead of arguing over competing opinions. They work toward synthesis and transforming analysis into shared understanding. They respectfully elicit the insights, creativity, and wisdom from others.

In their book entitled Breaking Robert’s Rules, Larry Susskind and Jeff Cruikshank say that facilitative leadership is a means to “… getting people to take responsibility for their own futures.” PSI’s paint dialogue became known as the Paint Product Stewardship Initiative, which took on a life of its own as stakeholders became empowered to make decisions as a group.

PSI has facilitated change in the product stewardship movement, while keeping the same commitment to honest dialogue. We cannot do our work without you. In the spirit of Emma Lazarus, Give us your weary, old worn out arguments and we will recycle them into a sustainable solution.

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“EPR’s Broken Promises” — Bah Humbug!

Government is so easy to rail against. How great it is to lambast those faceless time-sucking bureaucrats that don’t care anything about Me. How fun to stomp around, spit into the wind, and swear about all that they do wrong.

In the latest edition of E-Scrap News (December 2011), the Director of Corporate Environmental Affairs for Sony Electronics, Doug Smith, kicked a lot of dust onto the EPR bandwagon. He waived his arms madly and decried all the failed promises and half-eaten logic of pointy-headed pension-brained cubicle lifers. But by the end of his article, entitled “EPR’s Broken Promises,” Doug was onto something. He was asking us all to consider the programs in Canada and Europe, which resulted in “rational laws” and “protected the current economic markets and developed fair market financing.” Doug is rightly concerned about how government policies can best accomplish laudable goals, as well as to encourage product design changes by individual producers managing their own products.

Sure, there is much you might disagree with in Doug’s article. The claim that “[EPR has] no influence on product design” is as unsubstantiated as the definitive statement that it does have influence. Nor does the article fully explore that there are many other reasons why government pursues EPR laws – among them fairness to taxpayers, lowering government costs, environmental benefits, and recycling jobs. It also does not mention that many of the problems with the current laws were caused by electronics manufacturers failing to agree among themselves about what is best policy. Also, the statement that EPR is a “hidden tax” mixes up what is paid for by taxes (most government programs) and what is a consumer product fee (EPR). And the “regressive ripple effect of cost internalization” is a real mind bender. Oh, and my favorite – that no EPR electronics laws except CA’s ARF can claim to create jobs because there is no way to ensure that the jobs stay in the state.

But all the hand waving aside, Doug is pointing out the real need to take an honest assessment of the 25 U.S. EPR electronics laws. Which work, and which don’t, and why? What can we learn from laws in other countries? How have these laws performed relative to lowering costs, saving governments money, increasing recycling, creating jobs, and creating a level playing field? What are the policy best practices, and should these be woven into a new federal law that covers all the states?

Emotions can often run high with EPR. After all, the movement has created a paradigm shift of tectonic proportions that has changed the dynamic of how waste in the U.S. and globally is managed. For electronics EPR in the U.S., it is time to step back and assess the situation in a balanced manner – with all the stakeholders at the table.

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Real Product Sustainability Requires a Lifecycle Approach

Every two weeks, PSI members and partners receive updates on product stewardship news from around the world. A recent NY Times article on battery recycling caught my attention because it illustrated how product sustainability requires a full lifecycle perspective — not only a focus on end of life. The December 8 front-page story described how processing methods used at a Mexican plant for recycling vehicle and industrial batteries from the U.S. are poisoning workers and citizens. The batteries are recovered — mostly voluntarily — at a very high rate in the U.S., without the need for an extended producer responsibility system, because there is great demand for the lead in the batteries. However, those collecting the batteries are skirting U.S. laws by shipping the batteries to poorly run facilities in Mexico. The money saved by companies is at the expense of the health of workers, citizens, and the environment. It is also at the expense of U.S. companies that are abiding by more protective standards in the U.S. There is truly no such thing as a free lunch. We need to level the global playing field so that U.S. companies do not lose business to companies operating abroad under insufficient standards. We should require U.S. companies to certify that they are using material processors that truly protect the environment all throughout the product lifecycle. This is real product sustainability. It is time for U.S. citizens to demand global environmental and social standards of protection for the products they consume.

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Why We Need Regulation for Fair and Effective Stewardship Programs and Why Voluntary Systems are not the Answer

Last month, as the Product Stewardship Institute celebrated its 10th Anniversary at our national forum, a new coalition of manufacturers seeking voluntary programs announced its creation. The Product Management Alliance (PMA) launched a press release stating that it seeks to “…support voluntary market-based extended producer responsibility efforts and voluntary incentives for increased recovery and sustainable product and package design.” PMA is comprised of manufacturers of carpet, electronics, toys, paper, packaging and transportation materials, mattresses, plastics, personal goods, and pharmaceuticals. But while voluntary programs have a definite role in reducing the health and environmental impact from consumer products, they are no substitute for balanced regulation, which is often a better way to foster innovative market-based solutions.

One good place to start is with the facts. Voluntary, market-based approaches will result in high collection rates only when a product has value at the end of its useful life greater than the cost to collect and transport that product to a secondary market. For example, many retailers collect toner cartridges because they can refill and sell them at a profit. No regulations are needed because the value of the used cartridge is greater than the cost to collect, transport, refurbish, and resell the refurbished cartridge. Retailers have the incentive to heavily market the return of those cartridges. In another example, a car battery left on the curbside will magically disappear because some enterprising scrap dealer will always pick it up and bring it to market for the value of the lead. Unfortunately, though, the cost to properly manage many other consumer products – including carpet, mattresses, electronics, toys, and all the other products whose manufacturers have formed the Product Management Alliance – is much greater than the market value of the used product.

After nine years and a signed agreement, the carpet industry’s best efforts to put in place a voluntary collection and recycling system has resulted in the recycling of only 4.5 percent of all the carpet available for recycling in 2010. The rest of that carpet material – more than 95 percent, or nearly 2.9 million tons – was disposed of in landfills and incinerators. Not only was this material wasted, but it causes operational problems at these disposal facilities, resulting in extra costs. The 13-year old voluntary industry thermostat recycling program reached only a 5 percent recycling rate before governments started to regulate. And the voluntary industry recycling program run by the rechargeable battery recycling industry for the past 17 years has posted only a 10-12 percent rate.

Wasted resources result in lost jobs and economic value. This is not a band wagon to hop on and emulate.

Don’t get me wrong. PSI supports voluntary programs under certain circumstances. Voluntary programs work well as a ramp up to regulated programs. They can grease the wheels so that, when a regulated system kicks in, the players know what they are supposed to do. These programs can also allow an industry leader to spark an innovative program. PSI worked with Staples in 2004 to develop the country’s first computer take-back program, which was piloted, then scaled nationally after two years. This voluntary program is available to everyone, and it resulted in innovative programs by others in the office supply sector, such as Office Depot and Office Max, as well as Best Buy. And voluntary programs can operate in areas where no laws, or weak laws, are in place.

But relying on manufacturers to voluntarily collect their products is like trusting that people will stop at intersections with no stop lights or signs…and no threat of enforcement.

Some people will have the sense to do it, but most will not. This is why the environmental movement was born nearly 50 years ago. It was because the market cannot police itself, resulting in environmental externalities in the form of pollution that impacts all of society. Do we really have to explain this concept all over again? Have we regressed this much?

Imagine a professional ballgame with minimal rules, no common goals, and no referee, where each player performs according to his own definition of success, and where there is no penalty for not playing. Like this imaginary game, voluntary product stewardship programs create a competitive advantage for those companies that will not act unless forced to do so. And, in every case, there will be a significant number of those companies. This reticence is unfair to those corporate leaders that know what is needed, have the ability to reach high performance, but get dragged down to the least common denominator.

The buzz among the product stewardship community is that the formation of the PMA is an indication that the product stewardship movement has gained steam, attention, and credibility. There is an interest in finding ways for voluntary industry initiatives to integrate with regulated programs. But there is also a concern that PMA is promoting voluntary programs to block sensible laws that will require them to take greater responsibility, even if the results will be better for the common good. There are other concerns about voluntary programs. Since they rely on the good will of companies, they could be here today but gone tomorrow. And it is often hard to know how effective they are since program operations are often not transparent, and companies selectively report data.

For the past 30 or 40 years, there has been a creeping sense among some in politics that all government officials are inept bureaucrats tying companies in knots, preventing job growth, and wasting investment dollars for little benefit. To be sure, those officials exist. But most officials I know are interested in using their authority to create a level playing field for fair competition that will result in more recycling jobs from materials that previously polluted the environment. They want to set broad performance targets and allow companies the flexibility they need to innovate and reach the targets at minimum cost. That is the type of balanced regulation and progress we need.

Government product stewardship regulations will result in fair and effective systems. Voluntary actions will not.

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The Infamous Light Bulb Law: What the Tea Party, Environmentalists, Government, and Manufacturers Have in Common

While a light bulb may seem like a trivial item, it has incited momentous debate. To energy efficiency advocates, the light bulb symbolizes the opportunity to upgrade an Edison-era technology, save money, and reduce greenhouse gases and other environmental impacts. In the Tea Party’s eyes, the light bulb is a prime example of an overly pervasive government dictating what items we can install in our private homes. To me, many actors – Republicans and Democrats, environmental groups and anti-government cheerleaders – have turned the lights out on the public, muddling and oversimplifying a complex issue.

In 2007, President George W. Bush, signed into law the Energy Independence and Security Act, which requires light bulb manufacturers to improve household bulb efficiency by 30 percent and phase-out 100- and 40-watt bulbs between 2012 to 2014. The law exempts “specialty bulbs” like those for chandeliers, and does not mandate using any particular type of energy-efficient bulb.

Not only was the federal bill signed into law by a staunch Republican, but it also had overwhelming bipartisan support. The House passed the bill 314-100 following its 86-8 passage in the Senate. Lighting manufacturers and retailers also heavily favored passage of the bill. “We support the notion that efficiency is a desirable thing, and this type of standard has been a part of our body politic for a long time,” said Randall Moorhead, vice president of government affairs at Philips, earlier this year.

The Energy Independence and Security Act was also touted as a way to lower our foreign oil dependency. Although many of us have warmed to the glow of incandescent bulbs, the U.S. EPA notes that 90 percent of an incandescent bulb’s required energy is wasted as heat, meaning increased use of scarce and highly polluting natural resources such as oil and coal. The Natural Resources Defense Council also predicted annual savings of $13 billion in energy costs and a yearly reduction of 100 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions.

Before the bill was introduced, technology gurus were at work developing energy-efficient alternatives. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, one such alternative – compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) – use 75 percent less energy and last 10 times longer than traditional incandescents. The U.S. Department of Energy asserts that, over its lifetime, a 25-watt CFL actually costs a consumer $105 less than a 100-watt incandescent, factoring in the cost of the bulb and energy usage.

Manufacturers began rolling out CFLs in bundles, large retailers marketed energy-efficient bulbs to the masses with huge discounts, and consumers switched to CFLs and light emitting diodes (LEDs). Unfortunately, supporters of this well-intended light bulb law did not finish their homework. Many consumers are dissatisfied with the performance of the alternative bulbs. And worse, no one mentioned that CFLs contain small amounts of mercury and, therefore, need to be recycled once they burn out. In addition, no one explained that CFLs can break, although not nearly as easily as their well-known cousins, the linear fluorescent lamp known worldwide by anyone who works in an office or does home improvement projects. The fact that breakup cleanup is easy and not particularly hazardous (but needs to be done right) further botched communication with the public.

Does the Tea Party have something to howl about? Yes it does. But they are howling at the wrong moon, missing a golden opportunity to help the public by meaningfully addressing the real issues. To this day, lighting manufacturers are fighting legislation that would require them to create recycling programs for their product. They want taxpayers, not consumers, to cover the cost.

What does this all mean? The adoption of the Energy Independence and Security Act has certainly created chaos. Proper planning for the law’s implementation was bungled by government, manufacturers, retailers, and environmental groups. Was it well intended? Absolutely. Should we roll back the clock? No. The potential for energy savings, pollution reduction, and cost savings for consumers in the long-run are too great to sacrifice for Tea Party enthusiasts who want to shrink government into nonexistence.

What do we do now? One solution is to make sure that manufacturers of these mercury products take responsibility for recycling burned out bulbs. Also, retailers promoting the sale of the bulbs must be part of the solution, collecting bulbs voluntarily and/or alerting consumers that the bulbs must be recycled and directing consumers to convenient drop-off locations. We must also learn from this mistake on a larger scale. Manufacturers of products should account for the product’s full lifecycle impact and factor the ultimate fate of a product’s materials into a plan for recycling or proper disposal.

Government officials, environmental groups, and PSI have all succeeded in Maine, Washington, and Vermont in mandating that fluorescent lamp manufacturers pay for recycling spent mercury lamps. We hoped that this industry would recognize the need for leadership without our persuasion. But all involved parties must now roll up their sleeves and find joint solutions to past mistakes. One thing we don’t need, however, is the drone of anti-government accusations taking the spotlight off more significant issues.

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