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.