Monday, August 15, 2011

Legislators' Interest in Producer Responsibility Grows

Industry "All Over the Map"

By Matt Prindiville, Associate Director
Product Policy Institute

I just returned from the National Conference of State Legislatures in San Antonio, Texas, where I was asked to present alongside four representatives from industry on extended producer responsibility.  There were about 70 people in attendance - the majority of them state legislators - with about 10 or 15 folks from private companies and industry trade associations.  I was asked to speak at the last minute to "balance out" what was perceived as an "anti-EPR" industry panel by some involved in the planning for the session.

What I heard from the presentations was not that industry is "anti-EPR".  Different industries and companies are all over the map when it comes to producer responsibility.  While most of us working on sustainable consumption and production issues are aware of this, it is helpful for state legislators - who may assume that industry speaks with one voice on EPR - to know that there are a variety of nuanced perspectives on EPR within and across affected industries.

For example, while the representative from PhRMA was clearly opposed to drug companies paying for stewardship programs (the title of his talk was, "Why Pharmaceuticals don't fit the EPR Model"), the representative from the Consumer Electronics Association and Nestle Waters were advocating for EPR "that fits into company business models," as Walter Acorn, CEA's VP for Environmental Affairs said.

Here are my cliff notes versions of the presentations with comments:
  • PhRMA - EPR doesn't fit our products.  Most of the envirionmental problems are from excretion; not flushing or landfilling of pills.  The accidental poisoning and prescription drug crime issues are the result of people disobeying their doctors (i.e. not taking all their medication).
Despite the flood of pharmaceutical EPR legislation, PhRMA clearly has not budged at all from their previous position of "No way.  No how."  The representative played on the dramatic by asserting that the levels of drugs in waterways are barely detectable - in parts per billion or parts per trillion, which is like, "dropping a sugar cube into an Olympic sized swimming pool."  What he didn't say was that many drugs are engineered to have effects on the human body at precisely those levels.  Environmental Working Group also released a study demonstrating that 13% of the 200 most commonly prescribed medications have harmful effects at 100 ppb or less.  As more legislators become aware that drug companies pay for EPR programs throughout Canada at relatively low costs to industry, PhRMA will most likely have a difficult time defeating additional state legislation.
  • International Paper - We are doing EPR voluntarily; don't put new EPR mandates on us.  (How would you figure out who the producer is anyway? - i.e. too many "manufacturer" publications).  We're working to ensure curbside collection is expanded throughout the country.  More could be done to collect paper food packaging.
While the rates for printed paper collected for recycling are high (72%), and paper packaging collection rates (50%) are better than for other packaging, we still landfill 26 million tons of paper each year (according to US EPA data).  When you take into account that 98 tons of materials are required to make one ton of paper, it's critical that consumer product manufacturers and the paper industry get involved to boost recycling rates to take the stress off our world's forests and waterways.
  • Consumer Electronics Association - There's a patchwork of state regulations which are difficult for industry to navigate; needs a national solution.  Infrastructure through private retailers and municipal collection sites is increasing.  We like EPR, just want it built into the way our companies do business.  Voluntary EPR initiatives may help as well.
The electronics industry has come a long way from 2004, when I worked as an advocate with the Natural Resources Council of Maine, and we teamed up with Hewlett Packard - against pretty much the rest of the industry - to pass the first EPR law for electronics.  Now, they're working together on compliance and implementation for the 24 state e-waste EPR laws.  Moving forward, I think it's key for CEA to work proactively with government and NGOs to harmonize state e-waste legislation, and make a plan to move beyond monitors and TV sets to recycle all the other electronics not covered by most state laws.
  • Nestle - We support and are advocating for EPR; just not those pesky inefficient, costly bottle bills.  We want to pay government to collect our bottles from consumers, and expand collection infrastructure to deal with containers consumed away from home.  We want the rest of the food and beverage industry to get involved as well.  Nestle has set a company goal (and aspirational industry goal) of collecting 60% of their containers by 2018.
While it's laudable that Nestle supports EPR and is working to move their industry toward accepting producer responsibility, it's disappointing that they consistently badmouth container-deposit laws (bottle bills), which are the original EPR laws in the US.  As I've previously pointed out to Brian Flaherty, Government Affairs for Nestle and presenter at the conference, Nestle already meets their 60% aspirational goal - as do all other beverage companies - in states with bottle bills.  It seems like the issue for the beverage industry should be making bottle bills more efficient to reduce or eliminate handling fees, not attacking the bottle bills.

My primary takeaway is that these industries and others are trying to make sense of the growing US movement for producer responsibility.  As Canada and the European Union expand EPR programs for more and more of the waste stream, companies are struggling to make sense of what their obligations are - and the potential impact to their bottom line.  Hopefully, they will see that incorporating the costs of green design and responsible recycling into the costs of doing business is the right thing to do, and will significantly reduce the environmental impacts of consumer products and packaging.  As more of the world begins to develop their consumer markets, it's critical that we begin to transition to a much more materials and energy efficient economy.  As the NCSL forum demonstrates, EPR will continue to have a big role to play.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments are screened before they post. Thank you.