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.

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