Tag Archives: PSI

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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About Those ‘8 Points About PSI’

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

mobile-phone-1425375-1600x1200In Waste360’s “Eight Points about PSI’s Phone Directory Sustainability Report,” the National Waste & Recycling Association’s (NWRA’s) Chaz Miller denounces PSI’s latest Sustainability Report Card for Telephone Directory Publishers as not making a “convincing case that [yellow pages phone books] are causing a problem.”

Well, we’re pretty convinced there’s a problem – in both accountability and sustainability.

Here’s why:

Miller states, “clearly you need some real data on the amount of directories and what the recovery rate is…”

The data the Local Search Association (LSA) cites publicly – a 67% recycling rate – combines many types of printed paper including newspaper recycling, making it impossible to understand where phone books lie. The last time the U.S. EPA measured the recycling rate of telephone directories alone (in 2009), the rate was 37%. We would love to find out the current recovery rate of telephone directories, and acknowledge any improvement.

The lack of publicly available data also paints a picture – publishers are happy to greenwash the public with vague statements about using sustainable paper, but unwilling to give the real data to back up their claims, despite PSI’s multiple requests for information.

In making use of what data is available, PSI found that only 23% of major publishers use paper from “sustainably managed forests” (and none identify a specific certification program); 15% offer support for recycling infrastructure; and only 31% of publishers specify the percentage of recycled content paper used in their books.

Miller states, regarding directories, “They’re absolutely invaluable for the white paper aspect… they’re trying to deliver information people can use. It’s a little imperious for PSI to say ‘it’s my way or the highway.’”

PSI believes that phone books do deliver information people can use, and by advocating for opt-in and opt-out programs, we seek to ensure that people who want phone books continue to receive them.

However, we also believe that all businesses have a responsibility to manage their products sustainably.

That is the goal of this report card: to shine light on those publishers following best practices in sustainability, and to encourage others to follow their lead. We have engaged with the industry in the past, holding a stakeholder meeting in 2008 and 2009. We’d like to do it again.

In short, we are more than happy to cooperate with the publishers to increase sustainability and transparency– if they are willing.

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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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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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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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The Movement and Its People – Two PSI staff move on

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

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

Sierra Fletcher

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

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

Kate Hagemann

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

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

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Recycling Jobs: Who Really Cares?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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An Award in the Present Triggers a Reflection on the Past

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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