Tag Archives: waste management

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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A Product Stewardship Approach to “Flushable” Wipes?

By Dave Galvin, Hazardous Waste Program Manager at the King County Local Hazardous Waste Management Program

To flush or not to flush? This is a question many of us have faced over the years. Those who live with on-site septic systems are particularly sensitive to the quandary of what goes down the drain. Anything other than human waste and toilet paper (that is specifically made to break apart almost immediately) should be kept out of such systems, especially if there are small pumps involved along the way, which can easily clog. After you’ve had to clean a clogged pump or pipe by hand, your sensitivity to such matters goes up exponentially.

flLarge municipal wastewater systems, it turns out, have similar concerns. Items that don’t break down quickly do not belong in the sewer. Many such items end up jamming even industrial-scale pumps and other machinery, costing millions of dollars each year in the US for repairs. Other material, including small plastics and latex, don’t decompose in the normal sewage treatment process and end up contaminating the leftover solids, which, in many locales, are beneficially reused as a soil amendment known as a biosolid. This is analogous to finding plastic fruit stickers and bags in the municipal compost — “hard to handle” end-of-life management.

Some consumer products are labeled as “flushable,” but are they really? Items such as baby wipes and skin cleaners, paper towels, feminine care products, condoms, diapers, and even dental floss, are usually not designed to break apart immediately and are thus not intended to be flushed. Some wipes are marketed as “flushable” while others as “disposable”; they are made by the nonwoven fabric industry and are supposed to meet certain voluntary guidelines developed by this industry.

A group of wastewater and water quality associations is meeting with representatives of the nonwoven fabric industry (via a trade association known as the International Nonwovens and Disposables Association) to explore a “product stewardship approach.” What, you ask? Take-back of leftover wipes? No, let’s not go there. Instead, they have agreed to discuss the challenges that the wastewater agencies face and to tighten the requirements spelled out in the current Guidance Document for Assessing the Flushability of Nonwoven Disposable Products (third edition). A fourth edition is currently in the works.

Here is an instance where the product stewardship dialogue actually addresses design standards! How do you set criteria for flushability such that the product truly breaks down in ways that are compatible with on-site and municipal wastewater systems? How do you ensure that these products are truly acceptable to flush, that they are “biological nutrients” in McDonough and Braungart’s Cradle-to-Cradle sense? How do you establish clear and meaningful labeling and marketing standards for what is flushable and what is not? Interesting questions indeed, and a dialogue sure to blaze new territory in the product stewardship universe.

This discourse illustrates an expanded definition of product stewardship, one that covers the full lifecycle, including design and labeling decisions that affect end-of-life disposition. Who knows – maybe Scott Cassel should be invited to the “World of Wipes” international conference to expand the idea of what it means to affect sustainable product stewardship.

“Hard to handle” takes on new meaning where upstream meets downstream.

Dave Galvin is a Program Manager for the Hazardous Waste Management Unit in King County (Seattle, Washington), part of the multi-agency “Local Hazardous Waste Management Program in King County.” This program addresses household and small business hazardous wastes in the Seattle metropolitan area. Dave began working in this subject area in 1979 and was the one who coined the term “household hazardous waste.” He was the founding president of the North American Hazardous Materials Management Association and was previously the president of the Product Stewardship Institute’s Board of Directors. For additional information, Dave can be reached at Dave.Galvin@kingcounty.gov.

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Why We Need a Game Changer

For over 30 years, I have been in the trash business. I don’t mean that I have been picking up trash all that time…because I am a policy guy. But I was the neighborhood drop off spot in college, receiving armfuls of old news, stacking them in the basement, and hauling carloads to the trailer behind our local food coop, where other dedicated recycling souls schlepped and sweated. I took my turn driving the college recycling truck, smashed glass bottles in drums in old warehouses to reduce the volume for easier hauling, and helped sell materials to scrap dealers.

I am proud of this work that I did with the recycling faithful. We did it because we knew that recycling was the future, even when 99.9% of the population wasn’t doing it. It made no sense to throw all this good stuff out.

I am glad that recycling has finally become a big business. Recycling creates over half a million jobs, saves most municipalities money, reduces environmental impacts, and saves energy.

But it could do so much more. And why isn’t it? Because many people working on waste management issues today don’t have the history that many of us do. We know what has been tried, what has worked, and what has failed. But it pains us to see the same things being tried over and over, as if it was thought of for the first time.

I did not come to the solution of EPR and product stewardship by stumbling into it. Well, actually I did stumble into it…that was back in 1998, when I heard Ron Driedger, former official for the British Columbia Ministry of the Environment, speak at a conference. He made sense because as then Director of Waste Policy for Massachusetts, I was struggling with issues that British Columbia had already figured out. But I didn’t stumble into the idea of EPR without a deep understanding of what did not work and what was needed. And when it presented itself to me…quite unintentionally…I didn’t think of all the ways to keep optimizing the current system because it would be too hard to change waste management in the U.S. I thought of the opportunity to reduce costs for government, reduce waste, increase recycling, create jobs, and shape the better world I wanted to live in.

Don’t get me wrong. Optimizing any system is absolutely a critical part of the solution. But it will rarely be enough to be a game changer. Let’s face it, most people feel insecure about new ideas. It requires big change to something we do not know. It requires faith that things will turn out all right. It requires faith in ourselves, and faith in others. It requires hard work. To many, that is too much of a gamble. But without the risk, there can be no reward.

Let me say this. I do not believe that product stewardship (which includes voluntary and legislated systems across a product’s full lifecycle) or extended producer responsibility (which refers to legislated systems at end of life) are the only answers. But it is very clear by now that these two related strategies have become main policies for dealing with garbage in the world. Yes, that’s right – The World. India, China, Israel, Europe, Canada, Japan, South Korea, and Brazil have all moved headlong into EPR and product stewardship. Is this going to be another area, like education, where the U.S. will be left behind?

It is remarkable how much opposition and resistance has grown in the U.S. to the simple idea that companies should be responsible for the environmental and social impacts from their products all along the lifecycle, including at end of life. And if done right – and we intend to do it right – companies will not end up losing, but only winning. Why? Because it is the right thing to do – financially, economically, environmentally, and (dare I say it) morally.

There are millions of tons of garbage that get tossed in landfills and incinerators each year. The high demand now for recovered paper, aluminum, steel, glass, plastics, and other materials would have been unthinkable back when I was stacking paper at the food coop. We are throwing millions of dollars of quality materials into the garbage, along with hundreds of thousands of jobs. This is crazy!

And yet, year after year in the U.S., we have experienced a growing push-back on concepts called product stewardship and EPR that are made to appear like dirty words.

Thank goodness for all the companies making positive strides, like those on the PSI Advisory Council, as well as industry leaders like Patagonia, which promotes reduced consumption and reuse of the company’s apparel through its Common Threads program. We need more leaders like these companies, which are passionate about our future.

Just as many of us knew over 30 years ago that one day there would be curbside recycling throughout America, we know that some form of product stewardship will guide the management of our nation’s resources in all industry sectors. It just has to be. ‘Cause the times they have already changed. Now is the time to bring on the Product Stewardship Game Changer which, along with other strategies, can bring about the future we really want.

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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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