Tag Archives: Massachusetts

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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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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A Decade of Product Stewardship: Message from PSI’s Executive Director

The Product Stewardship Institute turned 10 years old on December 6th!  Some of you might remember our very first national Product Stewardship Forum in 2000 in Boston when Secretary Bob Durand of the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs launched PSI into existence.

The past three months have been a boom time for product stewardship.  Who would have known that in 10 short years we would be able to say that there are now over 60 producer responsibility laws in 32 states covering 9 products?  Key legislation passed at the local, state, and federal levels all in one week in October, with Seattle’s phone books law, California’s paint and carpet laws, and President Obama’s signing of revisions to the Controlled Substances Act.  The recent Resource Recycling conference witnessed numerous references to the relevance of product stewardship and its relation to traditional recycling and waste management.  And the Global Product Stewardship Council convened its inaugural conference in Sydney Australia.  We are definitely on a roll!

However, laws do not guarantee results.  As we continue to color in the PSI legislative map with more laws, we also need to shift our attention to program performance, and to move our bulls-eye target away from solely being on end-of-life management to the entire lifecycle of a product.  PSI’s mission is to reduce the health and environmental impacts of products all across a product’s lifecycle, with manufacturers, retailers, and consumers taking greater responsibility. That is what PSI means by product stewardship.  Extended producer responsibility, with its focus on end-of-life management, is just one tool to achieve this goal.  It is time to expand our horizons.

For now, we want to celebrate the success of the movement and acknowledge the thousands of individuals that have brought about this massive change in how we manage waste in America. Over the next few months, we will reach out to you on ways you can engage with us to recognize the progress we have made together, as well as to chart the path forward toward a sustainable future. There is certainly more to come!

Sincerely,

Scott Cassel
Executive Director / Founder

Product Stewardship Institute

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Photo Essay from a PSI Tour of a Materials Recovery Facility

Last week a team from the Product Stewardship Institute took a tour of a materials recovery facility (MRF; pronounced “murph”) operated by Casella Waste Systems in Charlestown, Massachusetts, which recycles material from municipalities in the Boston area.  We would like to thank Lisa McMenemy, the Municipal Development Representative at Casella, for being such an informative tour guide and leading us through all the steps of the recycling process.  The Charlestown MRF was converted to a single-stream (also known as Zero-Sort or fully-comingled) facility in 2009.  The concept of single stream comes from Europe and is widely believed to dramatically increase the recycling rate because of the added convenience for consumers, although the quality of the materials recovered is lower.  Single-stream allows for recyclable materials (such as cardboard, newspaper, aluminum cans, plastic bottles, and glass containers) to all be placed in the same bin. When we are so accustomed to ease of curbside collection and other convenient methods of recycling, it’s hard to imagine how complex process actually is.

The single-stream MRF that PSI visited was highly automated and use cutting edge technology in order to separate materials.  The Charlestown MRF recycles around 750 tons of material every day and the most common material that is recycled is newspaper, which accounts for 60% of all the materials that are processed at the Charlestown site.  The inflows of recyclable materials are highly seasonal, with some of the largest fluctuations coinciding around the holiday season and also university events such as graduations and moving days.

The first step in the recycling process is taken when trucks deliver loads of recyclable material to the MRF.  The materials are dumped in large piles, which are then pushed onto conveyer belts by bobcats (also known as skid steers).  Metering chains make sure that the materials are not stacked too high and will not encumber the sorting processs.

With all the materials spread out along the conveyer belt, the pre-sorting begins.  The pre-sort is a labor-intensive step where materials that are not recyclable, or that may damage the equipment, are removed by hand.  Plastic bags are by far the biggest contaminant in the recycling process, and are not able to be recycled once they get to the MRF.  It is important to remember that even if you have good intentions and wish to recycle your grocery bags, the bags can slip through the pre-sort and end up in bales of other material. If a bale reaches a certain level of contamination, it can be rejected by a mill and must then be reprocessed, which requires additional energy, recycling time, and money.  Everyone should reuse plastic bags as much as possible, and consider purchasing a durable canvas bag for shopping needs.  If you want to recycle the plastic bags accumulating in your household, bring them to a store that collects them and don’t put them in your recycling bin or they willbecome a contaminant.  There are national retailers offering collection programs across the country.  Lowe’s and Target both offer complimentary recycling stations for plastic bags and you should be sure to check with you local grocer or retailer to see if they offer similar services as well.

With the pre-sort complete, a series of screens then separates out light paper products, such as newspaper, from heavier products that will fall through the screens and move onto a further series of conveyer belts.  The smallest objects, typically broken glass and shredded bits of paper, falls through the screen and sent to a belt beneath the entire system of screens, while the plastics and metals continue on.

Next, magnetic fields are used to force metal cans from the main conveyer belt.  A magnetic current is calibrated so that steal and tin products are separated into one bunker, and a reverse magnetic field is used to so aluminum products are separated into another bunker.

Now that paper and metals have been removed from the conveyer belt, plastics are further separated by their physical properties.  An optical sorter separates clear plastics, such as soda bottles, from opaque plastics, such as milk jugs.  When the optical sorter identifies a material as a certain type of plastic, different forces of compressed air are shot at the conveyer belt and are adjusted to propel separate types of plastics into separate containers.

Once all the materials are sorted they are separated into bales that are sold to mills in order to be reprocessed into familiar products.  Just a few examples of new products created from recycled materials are plastic bottles that will be converted into carpet and fleece, tin cans that will become rebar and bike parts, and cardboard which will be reclaimed as a lower grade of paper product such as cereal boxes.  It is important to recycle as much as you can in order to create great products out of used materials, but it is important not to recycle material that may contaminate loads.  Don’t hesitate to call your local waste management service provider to determine what materials are acceptable in your area.  For those covered by Casella’s service you may visit http://www.casella.com/what-we-do/who-we-serve/town for more information.

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