Thursday, December 22, 2011

Got Jobs? Bottle Bill States Do

By Matt Prindiville, Associate Director

Just in time for the holidays comes a hopeful message about recycling and job creation from our friends at the Container Recycling Institute.  Last week they released an exhaustive study on the job impacts of container-deposit-refund systems, more commonly known as bottle bills.  For folks that live in states with bottle bills (like my home state of Maine), it probably doesn’t come as a surprise that these recycling initiatives create jobs.  However, what may be surprising is just how much local economic activity they actually create, and the serious opportunities that exist to create jobs through the expansion of deposit-refund recycling laws.

Their chief findings were that:

·        “Recycling creates many more jobs than disposal,” and bottle bills create the most jobs of all.  While several studies have also confirmed this as a generally well-understood principle, CRI adds new comprehensive data and the added dimension of comparing container-deposit systems with traditional municipal-run recycling and solid waste programs.

·        “Deposits create more jobs than curbside recycling relative to beverage containers.” CRI estimates that collecting bottles and cans through container-deposit systems yields 11 to 38 times as many jobs as collecting these same containers in curbside recycling programs. 

·        “Material throughput is the primary driver for recycling jobs.”  This is a fancy way of saying, “the more you collect for recycling, the more jobs you create.”  Because states with bottle bills collect three times more beverage containers than non-bottle bill states, CRI documents that they commensurately reap the benefits of the added jobs associated with collecting more material for recycling.

·        “The secondary driver of container-recycling jobs is the amount of workers required to collect, sort and transport the containers.”  With regards to job creation, bottle bills succeed here again due to the decentralized, entrepreneurial nature of container-deposit systems versus municipal recycling.

·        “Jobs gained in recycling far outweigh any jobs lost in extraction of virgin materials, landfilling or domestic manufacturing.”  CRI’s analysis effectively makes the case that increased jobs from recycling more materials significantly offsets – by an exponentially-wide margin – any potential job losses in landfilling, and/or extraction and use of virgin materials.

The CRI report complements the recent report by the Tellus Institute, which estimates that 1.5 million new jobs can be created by increasing the US recycling rate from 33% to 75%.  If you’re a policy maker struggling to come up with job-creation policies, this is welcome news.  When you consider that states with container deposit laws already achieve between 70 and 90% recycling rates for beverage containers today, increasing and expanding bottle bills seems to be a no-brainer. 

For skeptics that think any new jobs created would be low-wage sorting jobs at materials recovery facilities or bottle depots, both the CRI and Tellus reports demonstrate that increasing recycling directly translates into reviving America’s manufacturing sector.  According to the Tellus report, increasing the US recycling rate to 75% through container-deposit laws and other EPR initiatives could lead to an increase of 550,000 new American manufacturing jobs, an almost 200% increase.

Lawmakers now have compelling evidence that recycling isn’t just saving trees and energy.  It can also be about growing good jobs at home and creating entrepreneurial opportunities, all while protecting the environment at the same time.  Now, that truly is good news for the holidays!

Monday, December 12, 2011

EPA Sustainable Packaging Dialogue: Big Consumer Goods Companies Not All On Same Page

By Bill Sheehan, Executive Director, Product Policy Institute

From September 2010 through August 2011, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency convened and facilitated a dialogue on how to finance recycling of consumer goods in the United States. The dialogue included four two-day meetings. Product Policy Institute was one of 30 invited organizations and businesses. Participants included representatives from ten consumer goods companies (such as Proctor & Gamble and Coca-Cola), two retailers (Wal-Mart and Target), seven state governments, five local governments, three environmental public interest organizations, and other non-governmental organizations [see report, Appendix B, p. 120]. The final report from the year-long dialogue was released on EPA’s website on December 9th and a public comment period has begun [see below].

The stakeholder dialogue showed a gaping divergence between public interest organizations and governments on the one hand, and the consumer packaged goods companies, on the other. Most of the former group entered the dialogue with the understanding that it would primarily focus on extended producer responsibility as the most promising solution to boost recycling of packaging materials in the U.S, the vast majority of which are wasted in landfills and incinerators. Governmental representatives made it clear that municipal recycling systems are maxed out, and that current taxpayer and ratepayer funding and decision-making is inadequate to achieve needed results. 

Instead of exploring EPR, industry representatives insisted that the focus should be on financing the status quo (see Strategies for Optimizing the Current System). The discussion on Financing Strategies was diluted by industry’s insistence that all conceivable options be considered, including those which have been shown to be inadequate (e.g., taxpayer-funded municipal recycling) and/or are politically or logistically not viable (e.g., federal funding for recycling infrastructure).

In spite of the fact that these same companies participate in take-back programs in Europe, Canada and other places around the world, most consumer goods companies balked at the notion of assuming responsibility for their packages after consumers are done with them. “We’re not in the garbage business,” was a frequently heard refrain.

However, these companies were not all on the same page. During the Dialogue, a consultant hired by Coca-Cola issued a report supporting EPR for packaging (although the report was never discussed in the meetings). An Estée Lauder company, Origins, has been operating a voluntary take-back program for its cosmetic packaging, and Estée Lauder publicly advocates for individual producer responsibility. It was also evident that retailers are evaluating the potential for increasing customer traffic and loyalty from take-back programs.

With other significant dialogues on EPR for packaging happening around the United States and the likelihood of state legislation forthcoming, the large product manufacturers and retailers are going to have to make a decision. Will they support EPR policies – which many of them comply with around the world – for the truly sustainable management of packaging? Or will they be on the wrong side of history and continue to fight for taxpayers to subsidize the massive amounts of packaging waste they create?


The report is: Final Report of the Dialogue on Sustainable Financing of Recycling of Packaging at the Municipal Level (PDF) (128 pp, 872K). EPA will accept comments on this report until February 9, 2012 . The docket for this rulemaking is EPA-HQ-RCRA-2011-0912 and can be accessed at

Below are highlights excerpted from the 125-page report:
-- an overview of the major “work products” of the dialogue, and
-- three major topics that “illustrated divergence among stakeholders.”

“Work Products” [page 7 >]

“Participating stakeholders identified, examined and evaluated a total of eleven strategic options for financing recycling of packaging and printed material, and also proposed the advancement of eight distinct projects to optimize the current system. Together, these two work streams considered opportunities for enhancing the funding available to the system while reducing the cost of the system’s operation.”

“Strategies for Financing Recycling"
The assessments were intended to provide a balanced summary of participating perspectives regarding the advantages and disadvantages of each strategy, providing a strong foundation for leaders in the public, private and civic sectors to determine how best to address the challenge of financing recycling. The strategies are categorized by general source of funding: producers, consumers, rate-payers, and taxpayers.

• Producer-funded strategies
• Consumer-funded strategies
• Rate-payer funded strategies
• Taxpayer-funded strategies”

“Strategies for Optimizing the Current System
Eight potential projects were identified as strategies for improving the effectiveness and efficiency of the existing recycling system, to meet the characteristics of success that the group discussed. The projects evolved out of the mapping exercise through which participants identified challenges or areas for improvement at each phase of the system. Participants jointly developed a set of project briefs…”

Major Topics [page 4 > & 19 >]
“The major topics that generated discussion and illustrated divergence among stakeholders included:”

“Extended Producer Responsibility
Many participants would have preferred to focus largely or exclusively on certain financing strategies they believed to be most promising, especially extended producer responsibility (EPR). At least some stakeholders believe the dialogue missed a critical opportunity for productive deliberation and cross-sector learning by not pursuing deeper analysis of EPR.”

“Some participants, however, including most brand owner representatives, expressed strong discomfort with any explicit emphasis on EPR. A handful of stakeholders expressed the view that EPR was in fact too broad a subject given the need for meaningful and near-term action, and that a somewhat narrower but still reasonably holistic focus on sustainable waste management – i.e., end-of-life management of key materials – would be most productive. The chapter below on Financing Strategies provides more detail on the group’s deliberations and stakeholder perspectives regarding EPR and other strategic options. [page 20:]”

Some participants believed that inclusion of printed paper in the scope of inquiry was inappropriate since relevant industry sectors (e.g., paper manufacturing, printing and publishing) were not represented at the table. Alternatively, a few participants preferred a focus on priority material types (e.g., aluminum, cardboard, steel) rather than all forms of packaging.”

“Dedicated focus on recycling
Some participating stakeholders – largely from industry – raised concerns about the focus on recycling and advocated for a more holistic assessment of end use options, hoping to explore how best to maximize the recovery of value (in financial and environmental terms) from the municipal solid waste stream. They preferred to be able to consider an integrated waste management approach including composting and waste-to-energy, determining the appropriate management strategy for each set of circumstances. Also, some participants from various sectors emphasized the need for source reduction and reuse to play a more significant role.”

“The purpose of the project was to solicit a range of stakeholder opinion and identify promising options rather than attempt to achieve agreement among participants. This report therefore does not represent consensus views but rather serves as a summary of deliberations, including findings and some jointly developed recommendations.” [bold in original]

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

These Are a Few of My Favorite Things: Suggestions for a Greener Holiday Season

By: Suzanna Baum, Membership Coordinator, Environmental Paper Network

Dec 2, 2011
With the holidays upon us, the choices we make to be environmentally conscious have more impact than usual.  We can make decisions to help reduce paper waste however, which will leave you and your loved ones feeling good about lessening your footprint this season.  Getting creative, purchasing recycled wrapping paper and cards, eliminating unwanted mail, and giving package-free gifts, will give you the room to boast that you're transforming the paper industry; a gift that Mother Earth and future generations will surely appreciate!

It's undeniable that wrapping (and unwrapping) gifts is a major part of the fun this time of year.  Some ideas that you can feel good about are ones that have been around for ages.  The good ol' brown paper packages tied up with string can usually stir up warm fuzzies, and re-used brown grocery bags work great.  How about the colorful comics section of the newspaper?  Or reusing materials around the house such as unused fabric from the sewing room, old maps, unused jars, or an old t-shirt that you never wear anymore? Ribbons wrapped around any of these make for a visual treat sure to be enjoyed under the tree.

Lacking the resources or time to be creative? Feel determined to use wrapping paper or send your highly anticipated cards?  There is always the option to purchase convenient, recycled products. There are many resources to help you find recycled materials for the holidays.  Conservatree, our featured EPN member this month, has put it all into a convenient chart for your viewing. Check it out here: Holiday Products Listing. Some other options: Twisted Limb Paperworks, My Good Greetings , Green Field Paper Company, Fish Lips Paper Designs, and Earth Love'n Paper Products. (Thanks to Greenline Paper for some tips)

All the paper waste doesn't necessarily come from our end at home though. I can recall a time when my mailbox was full of extra mail during the holidays with catalogs and special offers.  I was able to eliminate that wasteful burden all year round through a wonderful tool offered by one of EPN's members, Catalog Choice.  Get on board here: stop mail.

Aside from all of these options for paper conservation and recycling decisions, there is also the opportunity to donate gifts to your favorite non-profit, for yourself or on behalf of your gift-receivers.  Instead of adding more stuff to the planet, you're growing a cause that you and/or your loved ones believe in.  It's easy to donate to support the work of some of your favorite organizations in our Network here

I hope these suggestions help you to enjoy your green season this year.  Doing your part for the planet is a gift that will keep on giving. Happy Holidays!

About Our Guest Blogger
Suzanna Baum is Membership Coordinator for Environmental Paper Network.  She blogs each month highlighting different featured members of EPN.  You can find her blogs here.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Why Carpet Recycling Needs Product Stewardship Legislation

By Bill Sheehan, Executive Director, Product Policy Institute

Over the last few years, the need for carpet stewardship programs has become increasingly urgent.  State legislators are looking to manufacturers to help reduce the environmental and financial burdens of disposing vast quantities of carpet.  Made overwhelmingly from non-renewable petroleum, carpet is a major contributor to both landfills and climate change. 
In California alone, an estimated 1.3 million tons of carpet is disposed of in landfills annually, comprising 3.2 percent of all disposed solid waste in the state.  California ranks carpet as a top contributor to the state’s greenhouse gas emissions.  By the carpet industry’s own calculation, only 4.5% of the millions of tons sold nationally each year are recycled.

In September 2011, a year and a half of negotiations between carpet manufacturers, government regulators and other stakeholders broke down. The objective of the negotiations was to sign a 10-year Memorandum of Understanding to follow one that was expiring, signed in 2002.  The primary purpose of both MOUs was to set recycling and landfill diversion targets for carpet.  The 2002 MOU set a voluntary goal of 25% recycling by 2012. By 2010, after eight years of failed voluntary policies by the carpet industry, the recycling rate was essentially no higher than in 2002.  [The 2012 MOU Report on Negotiations and related documents are posted on Product Policy Institute’s Carpet web page.]

The 2012 MOU negotiations collapsed over the issue of sustainable financing for carpet recycling.  In 2010, California became the first state in the U.S. (and still the only one) to pass a producer responsibility law for carpet.  Due to political realities contributing to the bill’s likely passage, it was eventually supported by the Carpet and Rug Institute and the Carpet America Recovery Effort.  AB 2398 created a level playing field (all carpet makers selling into the state must participate), and a producer-based financing mechanism to build the infrastructure to recycle carpet.  The California Carpet Product Stewardship Program requires that all carpet sold in the state be subject to a fee of five cents per square yard.  The revenues from the fees are collected and used by carpet manufacturers to build recycling infrastructure and boost carpet recycling in the state. 

The effects of the law are already apparent.  Over the last year, collection and processing facilities in California grew from 4 to 18, spurring new economic development and creating new jobs.  Nationally, California’s carpet stewardship law is the only initiative driving investments in recycling, not to mention the jobs that come with it. 

Unfortunately, even though the implementation of California’s carpet stewardship law has been an early success, carpet manufacturers’ are opposed to any new state legislation. During the MOU negotiations they offered no alternatives to finance recycling.  In September, the Carpet and Rug Institute joined a new trade association, the Product Management Alliance, to oppose all producer responsibility legislation in the U.S. 

While all parties appeared to negotiate in good faith, and agreement was reached on several technical issues, the process revealed a fundamental disagreement about industry’s responsibility for life-cycle impacts of carpet, including when consumers are done with it.  Carpet industry negotiators never really accepted the idea that they should bear primary responsibility (with costs passed on to consumers), or that market forces should be harnessed by incorporating the cost of recycling in to carpet prices.  They spoke about carpet recycling as an added expense at a time the industry cannot afford it. 

Hardened by a decade of virtually no progress on the 25% recycling goal, state regulators and NGOs felt the second time around that voluntary goals without a financing mechanism are unlikely to be any more successful than the 2002 MOU. 

Carpet manufacturers proposed waiting three years to see how California progresses.  State regulators argued that postponing consideration of sustainable financing is not a sufficient basis on which to sign a new MOU.  California is not the only model, or even the best model.  For example, specifying fees in legislation lets carpet makers off the hook if the program fails to achieve desired results. The 25 state producer responsibility electronics laws adopted since 2003 have shown the value of legislative experimentation.  State regulators also understand that industry activity in California is unlikely to benefit other states.

In the 2012 legislative session, at least two state carpet bills will be in play: in Washington State, SB 5110 introduced by Senator Jeanne Kohl-Welles; and in New York, AB 492 introduced by Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh. 

Without more state legislation that creates a level playing field and requires all carpet makers to finance recycling infrastructure by incorporating the cost in the price of carpet, it is highly unlikely that significant investments will be made to back up any recycling goals.  If that’s the case, we’ll have another “lost decade” with most used carpet in America wasted in landfills and incinerators, instead of being reclaimed and remade into valuable new products.  Gone too, will be the many new jobs that could have been created in collection, processing and manufacturing. 

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

What we're thankful for...

In addition to being grateful for our friends and family and all the good things in life, here are a few things that Product Policy Institute is thankful for this year:

·        That EPR and policies to boost recycling can create 1.5 million American jobs.
·        That legislators across the country are getting excited about the economic development potential of product stewardship.

·        That Annie Leonard reminded us that there is enough money and ideas out there to build a truly sustainable economy.

·        That big corporations are starting to support extended producer responsibility policies and cradle to cradle design.

·        That people like you continue to support PPI’s efforts to mitigate the social and environmental impacts of consumer products, and build an economy that supports people and the planet.

From our staff, board and volunteers at the Product Policy Institute, we want to wish you and your families a very happy Thanksgiving. 

Monday, November 21, 2011

REPORT: Recycling and EPR can create 1.5 million new jobs in the U.S.

A new report claims that recycling 75% of municipal solid waste (MSW) and construction and demolition debris (C&D) by 2030 will result in 1.5 million new jobs and result in greenhouse gas and pollution reduction benefits.
The report, More Jobs, Less Pollution: Growing the Recycling Economy in the U.S.,was conducted by Boston-based Tellus Institute with Seattle-based Sound Resources Management. It was prepared for a coalition of labor, environmental and social justice organizations, including the BlueGreen Alliance, SEIU, NRDC, Teamsters, Recycling Works!, and the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives.
Two of the four recommended policy options to achieve the 75% waste diversion rate are based on the principle of Extended Producer Responsibility:
  • Extended producer responsibility (EPR) regulations to encourage changes in product and packaging design that reduce volume/weight and toxicity and enhance recyclability or compostability.
  • A (national) bottle bill covering not only carbonated beverages such as soda and beer, but also bottled water, sports drinks, fruit juice, teas, etc., as has been adopted in California, Hawaii, and Maine.

From the press release:
“Never in our lifetime has it been more important to merge environmental progress with jobs,” said Allen Hershkowitz, senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “The country is underachieving when it comes to recycling and we hear about high unemployment rates every day. This report raises hope. It confirms that organized labor and environmentalists can join together and reminds us that recycling still holds great potential to heal the planet in an ecologically and economically productive way. We want to educate and encourage policy makers at all levels of government about what they can do to create a more robust recycling system for our planet and our economy.”

Key findings
This study provides strong evidence that an enhanced national recycling and composting strategy in the United States can significantly and sustainably address critical national priorities including climate change, lasting job creation, and improved health. Achieving a 75 percent diversion rate for municipal solid waste (MSW) and construction and demolition debris (C&D) by 2030 will result in:
  • A total of 2.3 million jobs: Almost twice as many jobs as the projected 2030 Base Case Scenario, and about 2.7 times as many jobs as exist in 2008. There would be a significant number of additional indirect jobs associated with suppliers to this growing sector, and additional induced jobs from the increased spending by the new workers.
  • Lower greenhouse gas emissions: The reduction of almost 515 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (eMTCO2) from diversion activities, an additional 276 million eMTCO2 than the Base Case, equivalent to emissions from about 72 coal power plants or taking 50 million cars off the road.
  • Less pollution overall: Significant reductions in a range of conventional and toxic emissions that impact human and ecosystem health.
  • Unquantified benefits of reducing ecological pressures associated with use of non-renewable resources, conserving energy throughout the materials economy, and generating economic resiliency through stable, local employment.


Thursday, November 17, 2011

A Glimpse into Waste Management in China

By Stephanie Welsh, PPI Social Media Maven and former ex-pat in Shanghai, China

I admit, before I moved to Shanghai, China I didn’t think a lot about my garbage, or anyone else’s.  When I arrived in Shanghai in 2007 with my family for a 2 year assignment, the changes to our daily lives were tremendous.  So it was a few weeks before I started to realize that “waste management” is a whole different thing in China.

I moved to China from Portland, Oregon, where there is a very strong focus on recycling and the environment.  It is deeply ingrained in me that we should recycle whatever we can.  So when I realized that everything in our garbage went into a larger garbage receptacle for our apartment building, I was appalled.  Where were the recycle bins?  How could I recycle all the cardboard, plastic, etc?   A few days later I got my first glimpse into how different their waste management system was in China.  It happened when our new housekeeper asked for permission to sort through our trash and pull out the recyclable materials.  I imagined there must be an industry of some sort here, otherwise why would she want it?  Of course I granted her permission, and then asked what she did with it.  My Mandarin language skills were quite poor at the time so I only partially understood her answer, but I understood enough to know that she would be able to sell any recyclable materials. 

Over the next few months, I was able to observe how the entire system worked.  The system in China started out the same as it does in America, with our family generating waste.  Next, we sorted it to separate the waste from the recyclable material.  But after sorting, instead of taking the garbage and recycling out to the curb, in China an amazing and entrepreneurial set of activities happened next.

When our housekeeper sorted through the garbage, she pulled out not only what she could sell to recycle (cardboard, glass, Styrofoam, etc), but she also retrieved anything she thought she could repair, re-use or re-sell.  Which brings me to a major difference between China and the US.  The primary focus in China is definitely on re-use, while the major focus here seems to be on recycle.  Nothing that can be fixed or used in an alternative way makes it to a landfill in China, because there are multiple layers of sorting before it goes off to the landfill. 

For example, we lived in an apartment complex.  Our housekeeper sorted through the garbage first, then she took the garbage out into the hallway receptacle.  The maids who cleaned the building and hauled away the trash would go through it a second time.  Once the garbage made its way to the larger apartment complex dumpster, it was sorted through again.  At every single stage, different items were pulled out.  People did a variety of things with these items -- they repaired them, they sold them, they gave them to friends, they kept them for their own homes -- but if there was any use left in them at all, they did not go to the landfill.

So that’s re-use, but what about the recycling, how was it happening?  In America, it leaves the curb and I have very little idea what happens after that.  In China, when our housekeeper collected recyclable items, she sold them to the local “recycling guy”.  

Collecting cardboard for recycling in Shanghai, China.
I don’t know what else to call him, he was a man on a 3-wheel bicycle cart who rode through the neighborhood once or twice a day ringing a cow bell to alert people that he was there.  When people heard him they would come out of their households and sell him their recycling.  The “recycle man” specialized in different materials, so you learned which guy was collecting which material and what his route and time usually was.  After the recycle man purchased and collected a cart full of materials, he rode off to a local business that purchased the recycling.  I don’t know precisely what happened to the Styrofoam, but if the business was cardboard, some of it was re-used right away by companies who were willing to purchase “used” boxes.  The rest of it was sold to a processing plant that turned the cardboard into reusable post-consumer material.  For all the recyclable materials, there was someplace to sell it to, otherwise there would have been no effort to collect it. 

The interesting thing was that the government was nowhere in this system, and recycling wasn’t about saving the planet.  Everything was about necessity, it was about using and re-using the materials that already exist until they literally fell apart.  There were so many activities before it came to recycling.  And when the material was at the recycling stage, the system managed to employ many people and each of those people were able to make a little bit of money along the way.  And from what we observed, the system was highly effective. 

Monday, November 7, 2011

Story of Broke and Welfare for Waste

On November 8th, Story of Stuff Project released a new web movie: The Story of Broke: Why There’s Still Plenty of Money to Build a Better Future.

Product Policy Institute has long talked about government subsidies for managing spent products and packaging as “welfare for waste,” enabling our throw-away society.  Extended Producer Responsibility policies aim to put the responsibility for managing manufactured discards where it belongs – on the producers and consumers of products, rather than on taxpayers and garbage ratepayers. 

Government subsidies for virgin materials extraction and waste disposal facilities are other forms of Welfare for Waste (see Welfare for Waste: How Federal Taxpayer Subsidies Waste Resources and Discourage Recycling, GRRN 1999).  And there are lots of other examples of mismanagement of the public purse for the benefit of polluting corporations.

The new web movie, The Story of Broke (for which PPI was an advisor), is about such damaging subsidies.  It explains a lot of what the Occupy Wall Street movement is protesting – as does another SOS movie, The Story of Citizens United v. FEC.

Read Annie Leonard’s blog:

“The concept for this new movie was born, quite frankly, of frustration.

“You and I both know that a better future is possible—that we can make Stuff in ways that are safe and healthy and fair. We know that clean energy and non-toxic chemicals exist. As a matter of fact, I just spent a few days with a group of Sustainability Engineers in Australia who know how to build everything from buildings to whole cities that conserve energy and water and reduce pollution, while also facilitating a strong community life.

“In fact, many better alternatives have been around for decades. Amory Lovins laid out a plan for a clean energy revolution when I was in grade school, which was more than a few years ago! Janine Benyus’s brilliant call for remaking our materials economy with biomimicry—technologies that mimic nature, rather than destroy it—was published a decade ago.

“So, why does today’s resource-consuming, pollution-spewing, toxic-laden dinosaur economy keep chugging on despite all the safer, cleaner, and cheaper alternatives?

               “One key reason is that we’re propping it up with our taxes, funneling billions of
              dollars more into this dinosaur economy than into the better alternatives.” 
              Read more…     View The Story of Broke.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Environmental Legislators Hold EPR Forum

By Matt Prindiville, PPI Associate Director

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of delivering the keynote address at the National Caucus of Environmental Legislators Forum on Extended Producer Responsibility.  NCEL is a non-profit organization representing self-identified “environmentally-progressive legislators.”  They provide their members with an “opportunity to coordinate their activities with respect to national legislative organizations, and to share ideas both on affirmative and negative environmental issues.”  Throughout the year, NCEL organizes issue forums for their 900+ members around the country.

At the urging of many of their members, including Maine Representative Melissa Walsh Innes (who blogs on EPR issues here), NCEL organized a weekend forum on EPR and pulled together 25 legislators with dedicated experience on product stewardship, and 10 leading resource people working in the field of extended producer responsibility - from environmental agency program staffers, local government and solid waste officials, and NGO environmental protection organizations.  It was a powerful, jam-packed couple of days with panel presentations covering everything from international developments, to EPR for packaging, to issue specific areas like electronics, pharmaceuticals and household hazardous waste.

One of the big questions from legislators was where to start and what to work on next.  There is no “one-size fits all” answer to either of these questions, and legislators should take into account the needs and resources available for product-specific EPR programs in their home states.  But a good starting point is the Canada-wide EPR Action Plan.  Our neighbors to the North have developed and are implementing a plan to get pretty much everything in the waste stream into EPR programs over the next seven years.  Phase 1 covers packaging, printed materials, mercury-containing lamps and other mercury-containing products, household hazardous waste (paint, pesticides, solvents, etc), electronics and electrical products (they define this as anything with a plug or battery, including the battery), and automotive products (tires especially).  Phase 2 includes appliances, furniture, mattresses and construction and demolition debris. 

It makes sense to move forward in conjunction with Canada and search for regional economies of scale and cross-border entrepreneurial opportunities.  One of the presenters at the conference, from the British Columbia Ministry of the Environment, mentioned that the chief reason EPR was moving forward in Canada was because of economic development opportunities.  That should be good news for legislators looking for new ideas to create homegrown jobs while promoting sustainability at the same time.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Trick or Treat? New Industry Trade Association Formed to address EPR Legislation

By Matt Prindiville,  PPI Associate Director

There’s been quite a bit of buzz about a new industry trade association called the Product Management Alliance, which announced its presence in a press release issued on September 27th. A close look at some of the members listed on the press release – American Forest and Paper Association (Georgia-Pacific, Boise, International Paper, etc), Toy Industry Association (Mattel, Hasbro, etc), Carpet and Rug Institute (Mohawk, Shaw, etc) – reveals that this is a trade association of trade associations rather than an association representing member companies (although one company is listed on the release).
Their stated goal is to “support voluntary market-based extended producer responsibility efforts and voluntary incentives for increased recovery and sustainable product and package design.” They oppose “broad extended producer mandates that solely shift the cost of product collection and reclamation to product manufacturers.”
You’ll note that the word “voluntary” is used twice in the opening mission statement. So they’re for voluntary “EPR” initiatives, but opposed to “EPR” that shifts costs for product collection from government to industry. Last time I checked, that is the definition of extended producer responsibility, so I googled it just to make sure.
Sure enough, the most widely-used definition for EPR comes from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which defines EPR policies as “the shifting of responsibility (physically and/or economically; fully or partially) upstream toward the producer and away from municipalities.”
So after a cursory read of their press release and web site, it might seem that they could be cautiously supportive of EPR policies. In reality, this looks to me like it is an organized effort by certain industry sectors to combat EPR legislation in State Houses across America.
I have to say I wasn’t surprised by this. In 2010, I witnessed significant organized industry opposition to Maine’s framework EPR law. After the law was passed and the first Maine DEP report came out last November, 15 consumer product trade associations signed onto a letter and many submitted comments in opposition to the report recommendations, which included legislative provisions to create new EPR programs. Here’s a tidbit from the letter: “Product stewardship is not a principle for shifting the cost burden for product end-of-life management to producers.” Sound familiar?
The irony is that the report only included recommendations to create new EPR programs for paint, pharmaceuticals and medical sharps, so clearly the idea that an agency could make recommendations for EPR programs to a legislature garnered some solidarity among businesses worried that their product could be next.
Today, that informal coalition has turned into a formal, organized presence with an Executive Director in Boston-based attorney, Dan Connelly. I suspect those of us working on EPR legislation in the states will be seeing a lot of Mr. Connelly.
Now I don’t want anyone thinking that I believe this development is a bad thing for more EPR in the US. I don’t. The fact that select industries have mobilized into a trade association to combat EPR legislation shows how much ground has been gained over the past several years. The reality is that industry is all over the map when it comes to EPR (see my earlier blog post on the subject here). Some consumer electronics companies support EPR for their products; some don’t. Nestle Waters North America is touring the country promoting EPR for their products, while the Grocery Manufacturers Association is hiring consultants to seemingly kill EPR for consumer packaged goods. Each company and their trade associations are trying to make sense of the growing US movement for producer responsibility.
What’s clear is that EPR is not going away. It will be important for advocates, legislators, government officials, and leading waste management and consumer products companies to work together to ensure EPR moves forward systematically in the US.

 To the companies involved in the Product Management Alliance (and those trying to make sense of what’s happening), I would encourage you to look around and see that EPR is the future. It’s taking hold all over the world. We need you to help design and implement these programs and policies rather than fight them. We need you at the table in order to make these programs work. You are the creators and innovators. You bring the best ideas to the table. If anyone can figure out how to make EPR work and even figure how to make it add to your bottom line, it’s you. We need to stop looking at each other as potential enemies, and instead see each other as allies in initiatives that benefit all of us: clean jobs, a growing, green sustainable economy and a healthy, thriving environment.

Monday, October 10, 2011

SC Johnson finds that financial incentives work

Ever wonder why deposit-refund programs get two to three times the recovery rates of other recovery systems?  The answer is in a new report by SC Johnson & Son, Inc.  The report, The Environment: Public Attitudes and Individual Behavior — A Twenty-Year Evolution, is a follow-up to a report published in 1990, which they claim was the “first large-scale survey to measure both green attitudes and behavior” in the U.S.   

SC Johnson’s research confirms what Coca-Cola discovered 100 years ago when they wanted consumers to bring back glass bottles for refilling: financial incentives work better than cajoling, appeals to altruism, or even advertising.

Concludes SC Johnson:  “Interestingly, Americans say financial incentives and disincentives have a greater influence on their green behavior than pressure from family, friends and government.  … For the population as a whole, Americans say that both financial incentives (49% say this is a major influence) and penalties (49%) have a greater influence on their green behavior than pressure from family, friends and government – with celebrities having the least reported impact on green behavior” (page 14).

Now … how to apply this finding to SC Johnson’s own packaging waste?  Like Windex bottles, Pledge and Raid cans and Ziploc bags!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Measuring Product and Packaging Flows for Sustainability

By Bill Sheehan, Executive Director, Product Policy Institute

The importance of product-focused measurement to sustainable materials management
EPA’s Municipal Solid Waste Characterization reports have been invaluable to the development of both Sustainable Materials Management and Extended Producer Responsibility alternatives to traditional waste management approaches.  What has made the data so valuable is the distinction between manufactured (product) and non-product (organic and inorganic) wastes – a distinction that is possible through the materials flow method used by EPA but missing from the traditional end-of-pipe waste characterization perspective.  To be sure, aspects of EPA’s reporting methodology and scope can and should be improved.  But it is critical to continue and expand the use of production and life-cycle data to track the quantities of products and packaging generated and discarded for recycling, landfilling and incineration each year. 

The distinction between product and non-product waste lines up pretty well with the concept of technical industrial and biological nutrients used by McDonough and Braungart in the book, Cradle to Cradle.  It creates the possibility of talking about producer responsibility for manufactured discards and community responsibility for management of non-manufactured discards.  Product Policy Institute used those data in a 2005 report to produce the influential graph above, which makes apparent the contribution of products and packaging (red bars) to the dramatic change in composition of “municipal solid waste” over the last century.

The EPA Municipal Waste Characterization Reports prepared by Franklin Associates track production statistics, adjusted for product lifespans as well as imports and exports. This product-focused approach is best suited to measuring product and packaging flows – recycling as well as waste disposal – as well as critically important industrial waste flows.  Annual reports published by BioCycle magazine, in partnership since 2003 with Columbia University’s Earth Engineering Center, use state reports and questionnaires to waste managers to estimate amounts of material that is received at landfills and incinerators, as well as estimates on collection for recycling.  The wastes tracked in the BioCycle reports include materials not covered in the EPA reports, such as construction and demolition debris, biosolids, special waste, household hazardous waste, alternative daily cover, and auto body scrap. Tracking for these materials varies markedly by state and jurisdiction. 

The EPA and BioCycle approaches reflect different perspectives on the waste stream.  The EPA/Franklin methodology focuses “upstream” and relies on Franklin Associates’ close association with industry trade associations.  By contrast, the BioCycle/Columbia methodology is grounded in the waste management end of the waste stream and relies on a “robust network” of waste managers (Kaufman and Themelis, 2010).  BioCycle is a trade journal for composters.

Is one approach more important to sustainable materials management?  I contend that the EPA/Franklin product-focused approach is the more important of the two, for two reasons.  First, the EPA approach opens the door to the study of  industrial manufacturing solid waste, which is far more significant in impact than “municipal solid waste.”  The last government attempt to measure U.S. industrial waste flows was done in the 1980s under the Department of Energy’s Waste Material Management Program (which sensibly looked at materials and energy together).  A 1993 DOE booklet estimated that municipal solid wastes comprised only 1.5% of all “industrial” waste streams.  Nonhazardous manufacturing wastes have a greater potential impact on sustainability than MSW yet industrial reporting requirements are largely lacking.  This is an area in which EPA should do more.  The EPA/Franklin product-focused approach can and should be expanded further “upstream” to include manufacturing wastes.

Second, the most problematic materials in the MSW stream are manufactured discards – products and packaging -- because they are the fastest-growing component of MSW and they are often designed for disposal or contain toxic components.  The proliferation of toxic and throw-away products has been accommodated by an expanding municipal solid waste management infrastructure operating independently from the decision-makers that design, market and use products and packaging (Product Policy Institute 2005).  Put another way, the separation of the costs of waste management from product prices is a market failure driving social costs associated with waste.  Modern materials management policies, such as Extended Producer Responsibility, aim to correct this market failure.  While accurate measurement of disposal is important, in a sustainable materials economy management of manufactured discards will increasingly become a producer responsibility, and less of a public sector responsibility.  For those wastes, product-focused measurement approaches will become increasingly important.

The EPA/Franklin methodology should be more transparent, include the vast universe of hidden industrial waste flows and construction and demolition discards, and include reuse.  However, it should be expanded, not abandoned.  Governmental and non-governmental organizations developing effective policy measures to prevent waste at the source rely on US EPA’s valuable tracking reports. 

Go beyond the blog, keep up with PPI on our Facebook page and follow our tweets @ProductPolicy.

Friday, September 9, 2011

From Green Consumers to Green Citizens

By Bill Sheehan, Executive Director, Product Policy Institute

An opinion piece in the New York Times on September 7, “Going Green but Getting Nowhere,” questions the value of individual actions like recycling in combating global warming:  “The reality is that we cannot overcome the global threats posed by greenhouse gases without speaking the ultimate inconvenient truth: getting people excited about making individual environmental sacrifices is doomed to fail.”

Sound like an anti-recycling rant from a right-wing free marketer?  But it’s not. The author, economist Gernot Wagner from the Environmental Defense Fund, is on to something important.

As someone trained in ecology, I find Wagner’s basic question to be spot on: What actions will the planet notice?  He’s right in stating that the magnitude of changes necessary to avert climate catastrophe are “so large and profound that they are beyond the reach of individual action.”  And he points us to a key problem: “individual action … distracts us from the need for collective action.”

I’d go further.  I believe that we have become so immersed in our consumer culture that our civic personas have atrophied.  We see ourselves as consumers first and increasingly powerless as citizens.  We don’t see that recycling, to take a prominent example of individual consumer action, has been embraced over reuse and source reduction by corporations because it doesn’t threaten profits and growth.  Changing those priorities requires concerted civic action.

Wagner is correct that we need collective action to solve -- or even adapt effectively to -- global warming.  That’s why I work with citizens for policies that require corporations to be responsible and bear the cost of the environmental impacts of the products they design and from which they profit. Called extended producer responsibility, these policies aim to send price signals to consumers that make the greenest products the less expensive ones.  Collective action is needed for such planet-saving government policies.  The public voice also needs to be at the policy-making table, along with the private sector voices of "stakeholders," to protect the public interest.

Where Wagner comes up a little short, I believe, is in not articulating the potential connection between individual lifestyle actions, like recycling, and collective action.  Individual lifestyle actions need not distract us from collective action if the message is promoted and understood that lifestyle changes are necessary but not sufficient.  Responsible consumerism will only make a difference in slowing global warming if it is a springboard to the collective actions that individuals must take to get governments to adopt policies that address fundamental problems.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Taking EPR to the airwaves

 By Bill Sheehan, PPI Executive Director

Recently I had the opportunity to speak on the radio show True South on WGAU (Athens, Georgia).  The topic was waste, manufacturer responsibility and the work of the Product Policy Institute.  I have done a lot of speaking about waste, extended producer responsibility (EPR), product stewardship, and PPI, but this was not my usual audience: WGAU also hosts programs by the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Neal Boortz and Sean Hannity.  

Have a listen at the link below, my segment starts around minute 24:00:

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Got Jobs? Maine Company Grows with Passage of Expanded Manufacturer Responsibility Law

By Representative Melissa Walsh Innes, Yarmouth, Maine

Being an elected public official, it's my duty to stay up to date on what's happening in my state and around the world.  Time is short, so surfing web headlines is my way of staying connected.  In these tough times, jobs are on every public servant's mind and that goes double for me.  I'm especially looking for good news and fresh ideas to bring to the Maine State House.

Photo by Amber Waterman, Sun Journal
Unfortunately, for this optimist, most headlines are bad news and dour predictions of what's to come next.  So you can understand how excited I was last week to see this headline, "New law enables Auburn, Maine recycling firm to expand."

The article describes the implementation of a new Maine law, which I sponsored, titled "An Act to Increase Recycling Jobs in Maine and Lower Costs for Maine Businesses Concerning Recycled Electronics."  This law creates cost savings for all Maine businesses with under 100 employees by allowing them to participate in Maine's electronic waste (e-waste) recycling program.  

This initiative began over five years ago and was the first extended producer responsibility (EPR) law for electronics in the United States.  Just like bottle bills (container deposit laws) - which most people know about - EPR laws direct manufacturers to fund the collection and recycling of their products at the end of the product's useful life, promoting the sustainable reuse of materials and preventing the release of hazardous chemicals into the environment.  In addition, they reduce costs for local governments and taxpayers and create jobs through the collection and recycling of formerly discarded products. 

According to the Natural Resources Council of Maine, an environmental advocacy organization that worked with me to expand the law, Maine has recycled over 30 million pounds of e-waste, saved taxpayers more than $20 million, and prevented more than 6 million pounds of lead and other toxics from entering our environment, since the law's inception in 2006.  Today, 23 other states have also enacted producer responsibility laws to recycle unwanted electronics and many more are working on bills this year.

Up to this point, only Maine households could participate, so this increase in electronics recycling will allow Maine businesses to recycle their old electronics at no cost.  In addition, it will help Maine-based and regional recycling businesses to prosper.  With the increased volume expected, and with enabling rules allowing them to also "demanufacture" the discarded electronics, the Auburn, Maine facility expects to create almost 20 new jobs in the next two months.  Given that I'm from a small state without a whole lot of industry, the EPR law expansion is the best kind of news for those looking for work in central Maine.

On a final note, I'm happy to report that the passage of this law was a bipartisan effort.  Republicans and Democrats came together to overwhelmingly pass it - every sitting legislator voted for it!  Creating jobs was priority number one this year, and the Maine Legislature made progress by expanding one of their EPR recycling programs. 

In Maine, we know that recycling products at their end-of-life creates ten times more jobs than land-filling or incinerating them.  Given the job-growth potential, this can and should be duplicated elsewhere.  The question now is, why aren't we doing this with all of the other products we throw away every day?

About Our Guest Blogger:
Melissa Walsh Innes is an elected State Representative in the Maine Legislature, and serves on Maine’s Joint Standing Committee on Environment and Natural Resources.  Melissa focuses on the sustainable management of materials through product stewardship policy and initiatives, and was the sponsor of Maine’s first-in-the-nation Product Stewardship Framework Law of 2010.  She currently works with legislators, businesses, NGO’s and consultants around the world to help foster a constructive dialogue in this policy area.
Melissa lives in Yarmouth, Maine with her husband Shawn, and three daughters.  Melissa blogs at The Innes EPR Report, tweets at repmelissainnes, and can be found on Facebook at Melissa Walsh Innes.