Tag Archives: extended producer responsibility

Initiating the Conversation on Packaging EPR in the U.S. – the Levers for Change

As experts articulate the successes of their respective extended producer responsibility (EPR) packaging programs, it can start to sound like a “blend of science fiction, fantasy, and… a little magical realism” to some U.S. state and local government officials. What levers for change will compel stakeholders to pursue EPR for packaging in the United States?

Victor Bell (Environmental Packaging International) and Allen Langdon (Multi-Material British Columbia) point to the increasing costs local governments are facing within the current U.S. “blue box” system. As commodities markets continue to decline, recyclers are continually losing the revenue they once achieved from selling valuable recovered materials. On top of this, because oil prices are so low, it is cheaper to make plastics from virgin resources than from recovered resources – further decreasing the recycling revenue stream. Recyclers therefore need to cover their costs by increasing the service rates they charge local governments.

As these economic shifts become more pronounced, “the only way to deal with them,” says Langdon, “will be to put a new system in place to address those challenges.” British Columbia transitioned to an EPR system for packaging and printed paper in 2014 after experiencing similar economic shifts.

This 5-part video series kicks off a comprehensive set of resources PSI is developing on EPR for packaging. Keep on the lookout for webinars, fact sheets, videos, and more in 2016. 

Looking for more? Watch the first three videos in our series. You can also sign up for PSI’s upcoming webinar, “Examples of Change: Packaging EPR in Europe and Canada.”

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Local Governments are Key to Packaging EPR in the U.S.

As we come to further understand packaging extended producer responsibility (EPR) programs worldwide – including those in Europe and Canada – it can be difficult to picture how the United States could alter its materials management system so drastically. While many stakeholders see the benefits of packaging EPR, including saving governments money, increasing efficiency, and improving recycling rates, the process of passing such a law can feel daunting. How can we gather enough support to introduce, let alone pass, such legislation?

According to Victor Bell from Environmental Packaging International, the best way to guarantee success in potentially passing an EPR bill for packaging at the state level is to drum up unified support at the city and county level. When local governments and the environmental community form a united front, the pressure will drive legislators to act.

While Allen Langdon from Multi-Material British Columbia acknowledges that the U.S. system of checks and balances can be difficult to navigate when trying to pass legislation, he’s also optimistic. “Now that [packaging EPR] is in North America,” he says, “it should be a game changer. The fact that EPR is working in North America … should send a signal that this is possible, and it gives you… an example or a model to work from.” British Columbia transitioned to an EPR program for packaging and printed paper in 2014; its previous system was very similar to the current U.S. system.

Interested in drumming up local support for a packaging EPR bill? Contact Waneta Trabert at (617) 236-4866.

This 5-part video series kicks off a comprehensive set of resources PSI is developing on EPR for packaging. Keep on the lookout for webinars, fact sheets, videos, and more in spring/summer 2016. 

Looking for more? Watch the first video in the series, featuring Steve Claus from FostPlus in Belgium, and the second video, featuring Allen Langdon from Multi-Material British Columbia. You can also sign up for for PSI’s upcoming webinar, “Examples of Change: Packaging EPR in Europe and Canada.”

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Why is EPR for packaging such a hot topic right now?

Allen Langdon is the Managing Director of Multi-Material British Columbia, the stewardship organization in charge of managing British Columbia’s packaging extended producer responsibility (EPR) program – a program that boasts an 80% recovery rate. In this video, Allen explains why EPR laws for packaging are emerging in countries all over the world, Canadian provinces included.

With numerous challenges facing the current recycling system in the U.S., EPR makes economic sense. In fact, the U.S. is the only Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) member nation that does not have EPR in place or in development. At the same time, there is global momentum for industries to focus on building a circular economy.

There are currently 92 EPR laws in the U.S. in 33 states on 12 different product categories – none of which pertain to packaging. EPR bills have been introduced this year for packaging and printed paper in Rhode Island and Indiana, as well as in Illinois (specifically for plastic bags). PSI is working to educate state and local governments on the benefits of EPR for packaging in the U.S. by communicating international successes and experiences.

As Allen states, packaging EPR truly is the “next step in the circular economy,” and can positively influence a product’s entire value chain from design to end-of-life.

This 5-part video series kicks off a comprehensive set of resources PSI is developing on EPR for packaging. Keep on the lookout for webinars, fact sheets, videos, and more in spring/summer 2016. 

Looking for more? Watch the first video in the series, featuring Steve Claus from FostPlus in Belgium, and sign up for our upcoming webinar, “Examples of Change: Packaging EPR in Europe and Canada.” 

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Is the time right for packaging EPR in the U.S.?

Last December, the Product Stewardship Institute (PSI) hosted the 2015 U.S. Product Stewardship Forum, where environmental experts from around the world discussed issues regarding zero waste, extended producer responsibility (EPR), product stewardship, and the circular economy.

One particularly engaging session – “Exploring Packaging EPR in the U.S.” – featured global experts involved in successful packaging EPR programs in Belgium, British Columbia, and Quebec, and inspired attendees to rethink current U.S. packaging programs.

Packaging EPR laws require producers to cover the cost of recycling packaging when consumers are done with it. These systems increase recycling rates by providing consistent, statewide programs that accept the same materials in all cities and towns, and promulgate the same educational messages. These programs can also incentivize producers to incorporate environmentally-preferable materials into their packaging and reduce the amount of packaging they use. In contrast to the U.S., packaging EPR laws are in place in 34 European nations; 11 countries in Asia, South America, and Africa; Australia; and 5 Canadian provinces. This puts the U.S. at a competitive disadvantage to other countries that require brand owners to properly manage the packaging they produce.

In the first part of PSI’s 5-part video series, Steve Claus from Fost Plus in Belgium – whose packaging recovery program boasts an 80% recovery rate – describes why the time is right to implement an EPR system in the U.S.

This video series kicks off a comprehensive set of resources PSI is developing on EPR for packaging. Keep on the lookout for webinars, fact sheets, videos, and more in spring-summer 2016. 

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Comfortable in an Uncomfortable Space

Last weekend I had the joy and good fortune to watch my daughter graduate from college. Few of my previous life experiences have matched that prideful day.

At Wesleyan University, on commencement day, a commitment to social justice dripped from each graduate’s gown. A stream of red and black marched by the round-topped star-gazing observatory as African drummers pounded soulful renderings under a tent. Professors and other dignitaries mingled around lawn chairs, and flags whipped in the cold wind.

Receiving an honorary degree was former Wesleyan graduate, Majora Carter, whose efforts to economically revitalize poor urban areas are profoundly “Wes.” So was her speech. Her message: Get ready to be uncomfortable. That’s right! Anyone who wants to shake up the status quo will have enemies, even brutal opposition. You will know who your friends aren’t, she said.

As someone who wears product stewardship lenses inside his glintertwined arrowsasses, the message resonated with what I say about PSI – we are comfortable in an uncomfortable space – occupying a crevice of real estate between government, industry, and environmental groups. Most of the time, the positions we take are downright uncomfortable, at times going head to head with some of our own government members; other times trying to motivate brand owners that are convinced they know the answer even when no data exist; and other times getting smashed by environmental activists for being too close to business.

Over the past 13 years, this space has yielded dividends. In the past two weeks, three new producer responsibility laws have passed – Connecticut’s first-in-the-nation mattress law, and paint laws in Minnesota and Vermont (the 5th and 6th states to pass paint stewardship legislation so far). These laws do not pass solely because of PSI. In many ways, they would never pass if it was all up to us, or up to any one stakeholder. It takes a strong coalition that gets built over time. Starting and maintaining those coalitions is what PSI does – and it often starts in a very uncomfortable place, where we need to convince all stakeholders that the heavy lifting needed to change the status quo is worth the effort.

Thanks to all of our partners for great success these past two weeks, and we hope for many more victories that result in resource savings, job creation, and taxpayer savings. I am starting to like this feeling of being a little less uncomfortable.

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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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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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Trapped Inside the Box: Corporate America’s Struggle to meet its Environmental and Social Responsibility

Twelve years ago, when PSI was getting off the ground, my personal vision was that government and industry representatives could have meaningful discussions about waste policy outside the legislative arena, and develop joint policies, regulations, and laws to protect human health and the environment. I was tired of the traditional unilateral government approach to pass laws over the fierce objections of industry. Collaboration, after all, can achieve far better results than forcing anyone to do anything.

Fast forward twelve years, to today. While there are many stellar individual examples of corporate leaders finding ways to reduce their product impacts, far more companies have chosen to thwart attempts at having an open conversation about their environmental and social responsibility. In an ironic twist of self-fulfilling prophesy, most companies that hate regulation and want smaller government only become “greener” through the threat of legislation.

In an ironic twist of self-fulfilling prophesy, most companies that hate regulation and want smaller government only become “greener” through the threat of legislation.

PSI works on about 18 product categories, and has invited manufacturers, retailers, and other businesses associated with every one of these products to discuss how to reduce their health and environmental impacts. The only industries to fully engage in these discussions are paint (through the American Coatings Association) and rechargeable batteries (through Call2Recycle).

The International Sleep Products Association would not bring any members to our two open national mattress dialogue meetings, refused to provide contact information, and would not discuss strategies to solve the problem.

The majority of U.S. consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies were invited to attend our three technical packaging calls that recently addressed both voluntary and regulated strategies to reduce, reuse, and recycle packaging and printed material, including non-EPR systems. Only a few participated, and they have not invited PSI to attend any of their discussions. The truth is that most CPG company representatives in the U.S. are so new to the issue of packaging waste and recycling that they do not know what to do. There are many in this field, including PSI, who have been working on these issues for years, and can provide insights and opportunities for productive discussion among all stakeholder groups. However, this can only happen if these companies do not close ranks and only discuss strategies among themselves.

The National Electrical Manufacturers Association came to PSI five years ago seeking EPR legislation on mercury thermostats because they did not want to continue paying for the recycling of thermostats from free-riding companies not contributing to the industry-funded thermostat recycling program. After six months of multi-stakeholder negotiations and after all issues were negotiated, they walked away from the agreement and have since opposed all thermostat legislation except bills that codify their voluntary program.

No wonder why environmental groups have sharpened the saw against these companies. We have now come full circle to the point where PSI began – governments are left with little choice but to force legislation on industry, or accept whatever programs industry wants to do. That is truly a sad waste of all of our time and energy.

Yet the world turns, and PSI will react to this reality. We will continue to seek out corporate leaders, like those on our Advisory Council, at the American Coatings Association, and at Call2Recycle. And we will continue to support and strengthen voluntary programs as well, since many states will not support legislation under any circumstances. But the truth is that PSI is being forced into the same antagonistic fight in state legislatures that we wanted to avoid when we were created in 2000.

I had hoped that data, logic, discussion, and human interaction would breed relationships that would entice companies to transcend their natural inclination to maintain the status quo. We are now entering the fall, and many governments are getting ready for the 2013 battle in state legislatures across the U.S. …unless someone would rather talk…

Is anyone out there? Hello?

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Failure to Launch: U.S. Good at Throwing Away the Gold

For the 11th year in a row, Massachusetts has failed to pass electronics EPR legislation. It is now 12 years since the Commonwealth became the first state in the country to ban the disposal of lead-bearing cathode ray tubes, sparking the electronics recycling industry in the U.S…and placing the financial burden to manage electronics on Massachusetts cities and towns. It was the classic ban without a plan. Unlike the stellar U.S. women gymnasts who earned Gold in London yesterday, our country fails miserably at passing legislation that will keep gold and other valuable materials out of our country’s landfills and incinerators.

What a waste. What a shame. To watch our great and mighty companies offshore jobs, complain about it being the only choice they have, but do little to create thousands of green jobs that are there for the asking if they would engage with PSI and other stakeholders to develop extended producer responsibility (EPR) laws and other strategies that meet their own interests.

The powerful corporate self interest that has blocked movement on product stewardship and EPR in the U.S. is the same one that unknowingly is weakening itself, just as the U.S. auto industry’s fight against fuel efficiency standards weakened itself, causing the need for a government bail-out.

I just finished yet another book that chronicles ways that U.S. companies and policy makers are failing to take actions that will strengthen our economy, instead resulting in the slow decline of U.S. economic power. Edward Luce’s Time to Start Thinking shows what the product stewardship movement experiences on a smaller scale – a failure to launch.  Look no further than the microcosm of the product stewardship field, where many unenlightened companies fight against policies that will save billions of dollars for U.S. taxpayers, reduce waste, and generate thousands of recycling jobs.

These companies operate under the guise of groups like the Product Management Alliance, which evaluates EPR laws by showing that the laws that they weaken actually don’t perform well. How enlightening! The powerful corporate self interest that has blocked movement on product stewardship and EPR in the U.S. is the same one that unknowingly is weakening itself, just as the U.S. auto industry’s fight against fuel efficiency standards weakened itself, causing the need for a government bail-out.

As I wake up this morning to yet another failed attempt to pass an e-waste bill in the all-Democratic Massachusetts Legislature (and with its Democratic Governor), I wonder what this failure is all about…was Dell so bent on passing a bill that ensured that any goals included would already be met before the law went into effect? Or was the House leadership frozen in political gridlock on matters far removed from the bill itself? It is clear that there was no consensus on the bill, but how can stakeholders be so far apart for so long that we cannot figure out a way to act in all of our own self interest?

Close your eyes…and envision a time when we in the U.S. really went for the gold…like those women Olympic gymnastic heroes of today. Rather than burying our gold in the ground and mining raw materials in an endless cycle of waste, we owe it to ourselves to find a way to break out of this malaise together.

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Individual Responsibility: United We Stand in Health Care and Product Sustainability

Individual responsibility. In our world of product stewardship, these words have one meaning – a company having responsibility for safely managing its products from manufacture to post-consumer recycling or disposal. The Supreme Court decision on the health care law highlighted another individual responsibility – that citizens have the obligation to buy health insurance to cover their own medical care. Both relate to the principle that we are all responsible for our own actions and the negative impact they have on others.

What is so puzzling to me is why those who adhere strictly to the individual responsibility principle when it applies to people whose homes were foreclosed, those with excess credit card debt, and those who do not “pull their weight” in society, do not extend their views to product manufacture and health care. Manufacturers in the U.S. know that this All-American principle of individual responsibility is coming to meet them, even as many of them try to delay the greeting.

Individual responsibility is the bedrock of being an American. We are a people of individual rights…and responsibilities. We want our freedom…but we know that we have a responsibility to our neighbors, our community, and the wider society. We don’t like free riders, and we know that we have to do our part. That is what it means to be an American. No one needs to look over our shoulder because we are driven by an inner responsibility, whether moral, religious, or communal. But it is deep, and it makes us who we are as a country.

So why do those who profess individual liberties walk away from their own responsibility to manage the products their companies make in a way that does not harm their fellow citizens? Why do they want to allow free riders and put an undue burden on others…on me, and on you?

Regarding the health care law, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick said, “It’s about dealing with the freeloaders – the folks who now get their care without insurance in [a] high-cost emergency room setting. And all the rest of us pay for it today.”

All the rest of us are also paying for the recycling or disposal of every product put in the marketplace. If a company like Preserve is innovating its way to create products with recycled content and is committed to recycle its own products, why aren’t its competitors doing the same thing? Why should one company take responsibility for its environmental impacts while others don’t?

I hate being told what to do. In that way, I might have some friends out there. But I sure as heck don’t like freeloaders who cause impacts that affect me, or make me pay for those impacts. Product manufacturers and retailers have a societal responsibility, and we know the negative impacts that used consumer products, such as electronics, mercury thermostats, and pesticides, can have on our health, our environment, and our economy, even as they have many positive impacts on our quality of life. Those who want freedom should take responsibility for the freedom this country gives them in their pursuit of a profitable business. Otherwise, they will force the big bad government to make them responsible citizens….united with the Supreme Court and the people of this country.

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