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.

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