Tag Archives: packaging

Why PSI Opposes State Bans on Local Bans

By Scott Cassel, Chief Executive Officer and Founder, Product Stewardship Institute

The Product Stewardship Institute recently passed a policy statement opposing state legislation that preempts local government action to regulate products and packaging. The policy is intended to help defend local government rights to take action to protect the environment. Here’s why we did it.

ban on plastic bansTraditionally, recycling and solid waste management in the U.S. are considered local government responsibilities. Since local governments are responsible for managing waste, they should also have the authority to implement policies that support their local priorities.

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a conservative think tank with close to 300 corporations and private foundation members, as well as hundreds of state officials, thinks otherwise. ALEC is pushing legislation in states around the U.S. to restrict local governments from banning “auxiliary containers,” including plastic bags, bottles, cups, and polystyrene to-go boxes – bans that would directly cut into manufacturers’ profits, but also reduce external costs on governments, recycling facilities, and the environment. So far, ALEC’s model legislation, or derivations of it, has passed in Arizona, Wisconsin, Indiana, Idaho, and Missouri and has been introduced in another three states (TX, MI, and GA).

ALEC and its members see local bans as unnecessary restrictions on the free market and consumer choice, but local governments have focused on plastic bags and polystyrene for good reason. These products are often used in take-out food service settings and are disposed outside of the home. The materials are lightweight and easily transported by air or water, adding to the global marine pollution crisis. Plastic bags and polystyrene are recyclable, but neither can be collected at the curb with bottles and cans. Plastic bags are typically considered contaminants in material recovery facilities because they get caught in sorting machinery, costing time and money. All in all, these products wreak economic and environmental havoc the moment they leave a retail establishment.

PSI strongly advocates for the right of local governments to enact laws and rules that ensure efficient and environmentally sound materials management. Even so, there are instances in which a well-conceived statewide program is preferable to multiple local regulations. But that trade off – giving up local authority in exchange for statewide action – should not be taken lightly and should be a decision left to local governments. Local autonomy should only be sacrificed for good reason and with proper cause.

In the case of the ALEC bill and its derivatives, local governments are not being asked to forgo bans in favor of a statewide policy or program to resolve issues with these materials. They’re simply being told they can’t take action to reduce the waste they are obligated to manage and pay for. Policy tools are being stripped from the local government tool box, yet the responsibility on local governments is not relieved. As a result, the manufacturers of these problem products can continue to sell single use items, and local governments have no choice but to foot the bill to manage them as waste and litter.

If producers want to avoid bans, they should step up and offer viable solutions for managing these products, or at least commit to working with governments to find them – at either the state or local level. Restricting governments’ ability to act, while offering no viable alternative, only ensures that these products and packaging will yield profits, while our local economies and environment pay the price.

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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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7 Reasons Why AMERIPEN’s Stance on EPR is Flawed

Five years ago, the government members of the Product Stewardship Institute identified packaging and printed paper as the next priority waste stream. The reason was simple: recycling rates have stagnated for over a decade, the costs of managing garbage have risen, and recycling jobs continue to disappear into garbage trucks as valuable materials are carted off to landfills and incinerators.

These government officials have known for quite a while that they need a new strategy. And so, they did what government agencies always do: they earnestly attempted to engage the companies whose products and packaging cost taxpayers millions of dollars in waste management fees each year—dollars that might otherwise be used to hire teachers, firemen, and police. Unfortunately, most of those companies did not participate in PSI-facilitated multi-stakeholder discussions to which they were invited. And many refused to take part in other collaborative efforts.

Fast forward to today, and we see that very little has changed. We at PSI have recently learned that AMERIPEN—the U.S. lobbying arm for Procter & Gamble, Colgate-Palmolive, ConAgra Foods, General Mills, Owens-Illinois, Kellogg Company, Tetra Pak, and other companies—has developed an internal policy statement on EPR that, in short, disparages EPR and its supporters.

Yet, what is perhaps most dubious is that AMERIPEN crafted this position statement before completing its own EPR research. This indicates several things: that AMERIPEN is fearful of facts, dismissive of government interests, and unable to have a meaningful conversation with those with whom they disagree.

The following is a list of some of the most misleading statements that AMERIPEN makes in its internal position paper:

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Misleading Statement #1:

AMERIPEN states that: “We are working in collaboration with the states, and this work should be allowed to progress before embarking on the type of radical systemic change that would be created by a packaging EPR program.”

PSI’s Take:

AMERIPEN has only invited two state officials and one local official to participate in its meetings. PSI, which represents the varied interests of 47 states and hundreds of local governments on product stewardship issues, has offered to facilitate discussion with a representative government group, but AMERIPEN has not agreed to engage.

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Misleading Statement #2:

AMERIPEN states that: “The group’s intent is to assess the unique recovery and EPR programs across the globe using a non-biased, fact-based approach.” 

PSI’s Take:

AMERIPEN’s own EPR research team has refused to collaborate with PSI. How can AMERIPEN produce a non-biased, fact-based report when it has already come to the anti-EPR conclusion stated in its draft policy? By contrast, PSI has conducted its research on EPR programs in a fully transparent fashion through another North American industry association of brand owners, retailers, recyclers, and other businesses seeking to reduce packaging waste.

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Misleading Statement #3:

AMERIPEN states that: “…much of the current discussion does little to advance potentially useful goals that focus on environmental outcomes; rather, it centers on simply changing the responsibility of who recovers municipal waste… AMERIPEN believes in broader discussions that truly consider overall program objectives…”

PSI’s Take:

AMERIPEN’s statement mischaracterizes the nature of the discussions taking place in the U.S. and its focus on environmental outcomes. The EPR movement would not have been started in the U.S. if recycling rates were not stagnant. AMERIPEN has refused numerous invitations to engage in exactly the type of broad discussion it says it wants – one focused on reaching overall system goals. PSI has repeatedly tried to engage AMERIPEN members in a discussion about their view of the problem, their overall goals, the barriers to achieving those goals, and a comprehensive set of potential strategies to consider (including voluntary initiatives, EPR, and other regulatory approaches).

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Misleading Statement #4:

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

PSI’s Take:

There are many U.S. EPR models for other products, numerous EPR models for packaging and printed paper around the world, and several U.S. EPR models for packaging and printed paper that have been developed by PSI, Recycling Reinvented, and others. AMERIPEN cannot refuse to discuss whether and how those models might work, and then complain that there are no models. In the U.S., our goal should be to develop a basic model that balances stakeholder interests in a broad fashion, and then leaves it up to the stakeholders in each state to flesh out the details based on geographic variation and preference. Some states might prefer an EPR approach as part of a comprehensive strategy, while others prefer a purely voluntary approach. Even states taking an EPR approach will likely seek a variety of complementary strategies.

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Misleading Statement #5:

AMERIPEN states that: “…research on programs currently in place around the globe demonstrate that the goals of an EPR system in the U.S. will probably not be met…”

PSI’s Take:

AMERIPEN’s statement relies on two flawed studies – one conducted by the Grocery Manufacturers Association and the other by the Product Management Alliance, both of which hired the same consulting firm, SAIC, to piece together bits of data to produce the anti-EPR conclusions that their clients wanted. These studies make their own assumptions about the goals of EPR programs without asking those who advocate for, and run, those programs, then claim that their (SAIC’s) assumed goals are not being met. EPR programs are being proposed to boost recycling, reduce waste, create recycling jobs, save taxpayers money, and solve problems that have existed for decades. Packaging EPR laws have been passed in over 30 European countries over the past 20 years, as well as in four Canadian provinces (with the others to follow in the next few years), Israel, Japan, South Korea, Brazil, and other countries. These programs would not be spreading and perceived as successful if their goals were not being met.

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Misleading Statement #6:

AMERIPEN states that: “A key consideration in the U.S. is to balance the drivers and intended outcomes of an improved recovery system… Any state considering improving its recovery system must define and align critical outcomes before advancing a solution.”

PSI’s Take:

The basic job of any state and local government official is to balance the multiple interests of companies, environmental groups, and their citizens. AMERIPEN’s statement implies that states have not yet figured out the basic outcomes they seek. In fact, most states know exactly what outcomes they want to achieve, and an increasing number of states have publicly stated, often in published solid waste master plans from up to a decade ago, that EPR is a main part of their overall waste management strategy.

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Misleading statement #7:

AMERIPEN states that: “We are committed to increasing recycling and recovery rates in the U.S. through collaboration and teamwork among key stakeholders, by bringing more efficiency into our existing system, and incorporating best practices, all without the financial and administrative burden of an EPR system.”

PSI’s Take:

This statement sums up the problem with AMERIPEN’s EPR policy. I have not met a stakeholder group that does not want to increase recycling, increase efficiency, and incorporate best practices. However, AMERIPEN will not achieve these goals without involving a significant number of local and state government officials who manage the existing diverse and complex system. By engaging with these officials, AMERIPEN will better understand those systems and their challenges. AMERIPEN’s strategy to optimize the current system is certainly a worthy approach. Unfortunately, they have yet to articulate what policies or programs they believe will optimize the system. In addition, if solely optimizing the current system could solve the problem, it would have been done long ago.

I also have not encountered a program without financial and administrative burdens. Managing waste is a significant burden to taxpayers and government, but not the same burden to manufacturers and consumers. What is completely lacking in AMERIPEN’s policy is an acknowledgement of their role and responsibility for reducing the external costs of their products on taxpayers who spend billions of dollars every year to cart their packaging to landfills and incinerators. Also lacking is an understanding of the hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars that governments have already spent to develop and maintain the current recycling system. AMERIPEN cannot talk about financial and administrative burdens without understanding how those burdens are currently allocated. It is far easier for AMERIPEN to oppose efforts to internalize the true costs that their products impose on taxpayers rather than engage in collaborative discussions to alleviate those costs and impacts. What they might find, however, is that in-depth collaboration can actually satisfy their own interests in obtaining a low-cost, high quality, consistent stream of recycled materials. Only real collaboration will result in true innovation.

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The Conclusion

AMERIPEN members comprise many multi-billion dollar companies that, for the most part, are led by packaging experts. Unfortunately, these same people do not understand solid waste management. AMERIPEN has convinced itself of a solution while shutting out any possibility that they may be wrong. By closing themselves off to new information from those who are truly experts in managing waste, AMERIPEN’s members have operated from a place of fear and, unfortunately, ignorance.

AMERIPEN has driven its stake into the ground, and then told the rest of us to go take a hike while they fix the problem. How much longer should we wait? There is little hope that recycling for packaging and printed paper will increase in the U.S. to the extent needed unless AMERIPEN’s member companies, as well as other non-AMERIPEN companies, understand that they have something important to learn from others, and become willing to engage in a reasonable discussion with those with whom they disagree.

I believe in the ability of people with different viewpoints to come together and find common ground. I have experienced it many times, and I am not immune to major changes in perspective myself. But it takes a willingness to be proven wrong, and a confidence and ability to show others why you think you are right. AMERIPEN’s new EPR policy illustrates that it currently lacks both.

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AMERIPEN Member Companies

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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 for Packaging in the U.S. – the Landscape

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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My Trip to Wal-Mart: In Search of Sustainability

Edit: visit PSI’s Flickr page to see some photos from the 6th Annual Walmart and Sam’s Club Sustainable Packaging Exposition.

Over the past few years, Wal-Mart has successfully shed its image of fueling America’s thirst for low-cost consumption to become a leader in the emerging field of sustainability. Recently, I had the opportunity to speak about product stewardship at Wal-Mart’s 6th Annual Sustainability Expo in Bentonville, Arkansas. My message was that companies have a unique responsibility to be stewards of their products across the entire lifecycle, and that government can be a good partner. While that message was embraced by many company leaders, I also ran into a tsunami of market-based mania that fears change and uncertain outcomes.

Bentonville is a mix between Rockwell-like farmland with horses and cattle roaming in fenced-in plains…and company row houses. The Expo was located at a hotel that became a Mecca for hundreds of Wal-Mart suppliers, each touting sustainability claims that were verified by PSI partner, EPI, which after six years of Expos, still found the need to correct the claims for two-thirds of the vendors prior to the show. Every commodity association was there – paper, aluminum, plastic, glass, metals. Every consumer packaged goods company was represented, like Colgate-Palmolive, Kraft, Unilever, and P&G. Companies were selling eco-packaging, defined in innumerable ways. And the Product Stewardship Institute was there, with our spiffy table-top display.

Coupled with the vendor booths were three morning presentations, one after the other, two at a time. The rest of the day was free to view the exhibits and mingle. I presented at one of the sessions (twice) and sat in on several of the others. Wal-Mart puts a tremendous amount of effort into defining sustainability for itself and its suppliers. Wal-Mart’s Scorecard compares suppliers on a range of sustainability criteria so that buyers can make decisions based on environmental factors as well as the usual price, quality, and other variables, although I did not hear anything about social criteria (child labor, worker issues, etc.) being measured. The presenters went into painstaking detail about how suppliers are to fill out their Scorecard. The room was packed, and people were paying close attention. I asked several suppliers what motivated them to make changes towards sustainability. “Because Wal-Mart’s asking us to do it,” was the reply.

Perhaps then it should be no surprise that some companies did not take kindly to being told they have a corporate responsibility in the form of product stewardship, and that there was a strong role for government. This is a crowd that runs on voluntary programs, that is motivated by the market, and wants to keep government about the size of a pinhead. They are motivated by cost savings from sustainability, and have not thought much about the environmental impacts of their products when consumers no longer want them.  I took the challenge, and told them about market failures, and about the four tons of mercury going into the environment each year from the disposal of thermostats despite a decade-old voluntary industry program. I made the usual case for jobs, economic value, environmental protection, and taxpayer savings. I described how PSI developed paint legislation jointly with the American Coatings Association, and how this has resulted in the expansion of the recycled paint manufacturing sector, just as legislation on electronics spurred huge growth in the electronics recycling sector years ago.

There was much positive response to what I discussed. However, I also learned that many companies are threatened by product stewardship. One senior executive of a pharmaceutical giant knew all about the Product Stewardship Institute (PSI), including our national dialogue on medical sharps two years ago. His company is a major manufacturer of insulin and uses medical sharps as a means of delivering its medications to patients. He said he did not participate in our sharps dialogue because his company was not prepared to state its position. He complained that the dialogue was not developing solutions for real patients and that we didn’t know what patients wanted (even though we had patient advocate groups, sharps manufacturers, and other pharmaceutical companies at the table). During PSI’s two-year dialogue on medical sharps, we sketched out a statewide pilot project for the collection of sharps through various methods so we could evaluate the costs and complexities of such a model system. Unfortunately, the time and expense of developing the background information, reaching solutions, and designing a pilot came up short because the few key pharmaceutical companies (like this guy’s company) that needed to make a commitment refused to participate. Now, two years later, after billions more medical sharps have been disposed of in the trash, and after more worker injuries and added medical costs, I was told that this major company is working on an industry voluntary solution. He indicated he didn’t want any help.

Later, I saw a colleague from the American Chemistry Council and we talked about local government plastic bag bans and taxes, and how the Illinois legislation that requires producers to pay for recycling programs might be an interesting model, one that ACC and local governments in Illinois support. I then talked with one of ACC’s members and a founding member of AMERIPEN, the new lobbying group for consumer packaged goods companies. This person had attended my session, objected to EPR for packaging, objected to my slide on the benefits of EPR, and saw plastic bag bans as EPR which, by the way, she objects to.

All in all, I came away very impressed with Wal-Mart’s ability to motivate companies with the shear force of market optimism, its ability to stay on message with so many dedicated senior staff, and the results they have achieved. I also came away knowing that many companies and individuals shut down their communication because of fear about changes that product stewardship might bring. These people stop progress for themselves, their companies, and the social good. They are indicative of companies that will find themselves at the back of the pack in making the changes they need to stay competitive. They are risky investments.

I do not expect full agreement with the product stewardship message. But if a problem exists, such as waste, environmental externalities, pollution, lost jobs, and unnecessary costs, we need to put our heads together to come up with the answers. Company representatives that want government to wait until their company has an iron-clad position will only harden opposition to a joint solution.

As always, the Product Stewardship Institute is ready for discussion. We are ready to change our understanding of issues…because that is what happens when people talk to one another. But when problems persist, or if companies bury their heads, don’t expect PSI to stand by idly waiting for companies to finally decide they are ready. Where is the corporate responsibility in that? Where is the individual responsibility and personal commitment needed to take care of problems that products cause? If you work for a company and you don’t act now, try explaining that to your grandchildren.

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Disposable Toothbrushes – Headed in the Wrong Direction

Last week, I traveled aboard JetBlue to Florida for a family visit. I emerged unscathed through security and was greeted by friendly smiles by the flight attendants. After settling into my seat, the food and beverage service started. Anyone remotely sensitized to sustainability issues knows that the airlines need to step it up several notches in this area. Few of them even recycle their aluminum cans. The utensils, plates, and packaging are disposable. To be sure, airline sustainability takes the notion of “away from home” recycling challenges to a new (and higher) level. But NOT recycling aluminum cans is just plain lazy.

There I was on JetBlue headed to the promised land of sun, far from the cold of Boston. I was reciting my mantra-like reflection on environmental airline woes when I was struck by another blow to my environmental sensibilities. Those friendly flight attendants were passing out free samples…of disposable toothbrushes!

Don’t get me wrong. I will be the last person to tell some stinko-breathed person next to me NOT to use a toothbrush, even one of these mini 3-inch ones. But come on! Is this really what the Colgate-Palmolive Company should be inventing in this day and age? I was doubly surprised since the company is taking a leadership role in a national dialogue aimed at reducing packaging waste. Is Colgate’s mini toothbrush recyclable? Compostable? Biodegradeable? Is this the most sustainable solution to controlling bad breath? What about gum or breath mints? What about carrying a regular toothbrush with you?

People gobbled up these free samples, and I (somewhat sheepishly) requested one so I could write about it. With products like disposable toothbrushes coming onto the market, it is a signal that well-meaning companies are still heading in the wrong direction, at least on some of their products. They need to hear from us that such products are a thing of the past. As for me, for a product like this, I will support companies like Preserve, which makes a toothbrush that is made from recycled plastic and is recyclable. Speak up. And when you open your mouth to brush, think sustainability.

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