Tag Archives: United States

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the EPR packaging bill in Vermont in 2010 that included EPR only if the state’s 40-year old container deposit law was repealed.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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Extended Producer Responsibility – The Gateway to Discomfort and The Path to Progress

I like being comfortable. Every Saturday, I rest. I make myself as comfortable as I can be. On the other days of the week, I make others uncomfortable. Not on purpose. But I suppose it’s the nature of our business…the EPR business. I think of ways to change how waste is managed in our country. And that can make people nervous and downright uncomfortable. The truth is that I am tired of disposing of my own garbage and watching other people’s garbage get tossed out. There are people starving around the world and using scraps to build their houses, and we in the U.S. are still throwing out tons of usable materials. This is a situation no one should be comfortable with. So I want to agitate. I want to change it. Many of you do too. But without holding someone responsible, who is also capable of creating lasting positive change, it will not happen. And that is where EPR comes in.

For years, government was given the responsibility to take care of its citizens. And it embraced that responsibility. Employees cleaned the streets from horse excrement, paved roads, and met the needs of citizens. Along the way, they also started to carry the burden of companies, which made more and more products that were shipped to the store or to the door, and that was the end of their corporate responsibility…unless someone got hurt directly from negligence on their part in the way the product was made or operated.

But now we know that products harm not only directly but indirectly. There are impacts all along a product’s lifecycle. Mining causes worker injuries, pollution, and blighted landscapes. Manufacture, transportation, use, recycling, and disposal all cause impacts. And the entity that can best change those impacts is the manufacturer that makes those products. Unfortunately, they are all too comfortable with how things are right now. After all, it’s tough in business. To survive is not easy. The successful companies have been able to maneuver through a host of obstacles. And who wants to have to engage in yet another challenge, which is what EPR represents? EPR is just one more obstacle to business survival, and one best avoided.

Those of us in the EPR business have gotten accustomed to making people feel uncomfortable. The first presentation I gave to paint industry representatives on paint recycling, well before PSI was created, was met with disdain. After my dinner-time presentation, a guy from California Paints stood up and literally mixed a bunch of liquids together into a can. He wanted to demonstrate how paint recycling was destined for contamination…how it could never be done right, how toxics would inevitably get mixed with good paint and create a hazardous waste of uncontrollable proportions. He sure showed me…15 years later, the recycled paint manufacturing industry is as strong as ever, and poised for exponential growth.

EPR advocates have learned to expect opposition. We are used to the push back. It is our job to make others uncomfortable and to rethink what they have always been doing for years. When my 21-year old daughter does this to me, I thank her for making me think…really think…about what I am doing and why.

It is time for manufacturers to really think about what they are doing and how EPR can help increase the supply of recycled materials, create jobs, and reduce pollution at reasonable cost. It is our responsibility as advocates to show how EPR can result in those benefits. But ultimately it will take those who are comfortable to become uncomfortable before those benefits are realized.

There is the old saying…no pain, no gain. You exercise and you feel better. It is time to start training for the EPR changes that are round the bend.

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It’s Dark Down There: More Reasons to Recycle

Below is a blog post by Tom Rhoads, Executive Director of the Onondaga County Resource Recovery Agency in New York State in preparation for the PSI Networking Webinar, “Promoting the Extraction of Virgin Materials: How Subsidies Impact Product Sustainability,” on Wednesday, June 15th (2:00-3:30 p.m. EST). Please join us for the dialogue.

We can never get too many good news stories in this day and age. The Chilean miners’ rescue is certain to be one of the top stories of the year for 2010. I was born in a mine town, and although I never spent a full day working underground, I have toured several deep mines. The darkness is absolute when the lights go off. You literally cannot see your hand in front of your face. To be trapped thousands of feet underground is, for me, incomprehensible. To carry any faith in rescue after days of no contact was marvelous and probably a genuine life saver.

I recently read that these miners were harvesting copper ore that was less than one percent copper. Copper is a common metal, but its value has risen enough to drive men 2,300 feet below the earth’s surface. In previous accidents at this very same mine, men died for ore with one percent copper.

Many other metals and minerals are hotly pursued across the globe. Mines in remote Canada and Indonesia have become targets of billion dollar investment takeovers. China made recent world news and sent ripples down economic spines when it declared a suspension to the export of so-called rare earth minerals (those needed in everyday electronics, communication devices, and high-tech batteries and magnets common to many tools and most high-efficiency transportation.)

Can you guess where I am headed? In the United States, only about 60 percent of the U.S. population even has access to basic curbside recycling for containers and printed materials. (USEPA, 2008). In New York, I travel through several areas that offer no curbside recycling for packages, containers, and printed materials. Zero recycling. You see, recycling and recycling infrastructure have a cost. That cost is in addition to the cost of trash disposal. The regional agency I work for, the Onondaga County Resource Recovery Agency (OCRRA), uses the revenues we earn from trash disposal and recovered energy from the trash to pay for the entire program. OCRRA’s disposal fee is more than the cost of landfill disposal, but OCRRA’s tipping fee covers the costs and benefits of Household Hazardous Waste Events, recycling infrastructure, battery collections, free recycling assistance and supplies for businesses, Earth Day Litter Clean-Up, OCRRA’s newsletter, and much, much, more. Even the curbside blue bin for recyclables is paid for with the trash disposal tipping fee. The cost of these programs puts pressure on OCRRA’s tipping fee and the resources of many other local governments providing similar programs. And as we continue to reduce the amount of trash through waste reduction and recycling programs, OCRRA (like many other local governments) is actually penalized for its recycling efforts with reduced revenue in its primary funding source – trash disposal fees.

We constantly reflect on how to pay for waste reduction and recycling programs. But there is a better question to consider: what does it cost us not to recycle? When we send miners into remote and deadly environments, because it costs a little more up front to develop recycling infrastructure, is that really the way to keep score? If China has a lock on minerals needed for the next generation of economic growth or energy-efficient technology, can our children (and their children) really afford us tossing away cell phones, batteries, or old electronics that are far richer in mineral content than ore from a mine?

I hope you agree that these and other similar questions need to be asked when we discuss the cost to recycle, or how to pay for a system that places a priority on reduction, reuse, recycling, and recovery before landfilling.  Extended Producer Responsibility laws for e-waste have been tremendous vehicles to fund e-waste recycling infrastructure across the U.S. EPR strategies also have worked in Canada and Europe for other recyclables as well – including packaging and printed materials.

The faith of the Chilean miners to be rescued was probably their life saver. Faith in rescue, leadership during the crisis, oh yeah – and a $20,000,000 rescue effort watched by the world for 69 days; those were the story lines in Chile in 2010. Perhaps we can also consider that product stewardship by the manufacturer (thereby better engaging the consumer) for waste reduction and recycling is the form of leadership needed to avoid another crisis-making headline in the future.

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