Friday, July 27, 2012

Under Extended Producer Responsibility, Who Owns the Resources?

By Helen Spiegelman, Board President

The question of who owns recyclable resources is one that has lurked outside the normal discourse of recyclers. It's time to start talking about it.

The recycling industry has traditionally relied on a unique type of resource: not “raw” resources, but resources with significant value-added. In fact, the greatest part of the value of the recycler's stock-in-trade is the value-added. This is what makes recyclers different from mining companies. Recyclers tend to emphasize the social benefits of their business, but there has been surprisingly little discussion of a potential vulnerability: an open question about the recycler’s right to access discarded materials.

The recycler’s access to discards is premised on a broad social tendency to consider discards as valueless. It is also premised on a market in which manufacturers relinquish any sort of prior rights to the materials to which they have added value. With rare exceptions, manufacturers have not attempted to exercise any claims on their discarded products.

EPR for packaging and printed paper is a threat to recyclers because it introduces the possibility that the original producers may have prior right to the value-added in their discards. We feel comfortable with EPR for discards with negative value (toxic or useless products). But when EPR is extended beyond household hazardous waste to include discards with real value, recyclers rightly see a major disruption of their business.

My sense is that this will be a healthy challenge for the recycling industry - as long as we make sure that EPR policy works for the planet and its inhabitants.  EPR policy must include robust mechanisms to prevent abusive practices by producers and producer responsibility organizations (PROs) that may be formed by producers to discharge their responsibilities under EPR laws.   If there is only one PRO authorized by producers of a certain product or resource, the effect can create a monopsony (think monopoly, except in the reverse where you have one buyer and many sellers).

We need to have a vision of a strong, diversified recycling industry with competitive access to discarded resources protected by regulation if necessary. The original brand owner's “rights” are constrained by a new obligation to ensure that its discards don’t go to waste, and by an obligation to trade fairly with businesses and social enterprises that provide recycling and reuse solutions for those discards; just as the recycler's “rights” are constrained by the acknowledgement of the brand owner's contribution to the value of a discard.

This is how we are going to grow recycling beyond a boutique industry, where a relatively small number of businesses and social enterprises operate at the margins of a vast tipping floor and most of the value-added resources go to waste.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Leading Organizations Applaud First-in-Nation Local Pharmaceutical Take Back Ordinance

Oakland, CA (July 24, 2012)  Today, three leading U.S. organizations in the product stewardship field applauded the historic 5-0 vote by the Alameda County, California, Board of Supervisors to require pharmaceutical companies whose products are sold in the County to pay for collection programs for unwanted medicines. 

The Product Stewardship Institute, Product Policy Institute, and California Product Stewardship Council are leaders of the national movement to shift responsibility for spent products from taxpayers to the producers who design, make, and sell them.  The problem with unwanted pharmaceuticals is that, without a safe and convenient collection program, there are significant risks of prescription drug abuse, accidental poisonings, aquatic impacts, and pollution of our nation’s waterways.

“Today, Alameda County took a stand and said if the federal government and state legislators fail to act to protect public health and the environment, and the product manufacturers refuse to share in the responsibility for their products which they profited from, local governments will take action because the public is demanding it”, said Heidi Sanborn, Executive Director of the California Product Stewardship Council.

The movement to have manufacturers pay for the end-of-life costs of their products is growing both among leading corporations and state and local governments in the United States. In Canada and other countries, an increasing number of companies already take responsibility for providing convenient collection of numerous unwanted products, including leftover medications.

The issue of “who pays” for collection programs is bigger than just pharmaceuticals.  “Dozens of new industry programs and state laws to reduce the lifecycle impacts of products in the U.S. have been initiated or adopted in the last decade” said Scott Cassel, Chief Executive Officer of the Product Stewardship Institute. There are now producer responsibility laws in 32 states for products including paint, mercury-containing fluorescent lamps, and electronics.

But asking corporations to share in the responsibility should not be such a fight.  Bill Sheehan, Executive Director of the Product Policy Institute said, “There are national discussions on packaging initiated by Nestle Waters and voluntary take-back programs funded by rechargeable battery producers.  But not one pharmaceutical company has offered any help to safely collect unwanted medications, like they do in other countries.  The industry failed to act.  They forced government to mandate what’s fair: that they share in the responsibility.”


Product Policy Institute
Bill Sheehan, 706-247-2500

Product Stewardship Institute
Scott Cassel, 617-236-4822

California Product Stewardship Council

Heidi Sanborn, 916 706-3420


Thursday, July 19, 2012

Product Policy Institute Expands Board to Support Growing Producer Responsibility Movement


Leslie Tamminen and Dawn Erlandson bring new energy to the movement

TODAY, the Product Policy Institute (PPI) announced it has brought on two new board members to help grow the rising movement for a cradle-to-cradle economy currently sweeping the United States.  Since 2003, PPI has advocated for extended producer responsibility (EPR) policies, which shift physical and financial responsibility for recycling products and packaging away from government, and upstream to manufacturers that design and profit from their sale.  Mature EPR systems have been proven to dramatically reduce waste and the need for virgin natural resources, cut toxic pollution and energy use, save taxpayers money and create jobs.

“With the surge in producer responsibility recycling legislation, PPI needs a large and diverse board that reflects the diversity and breadth of the movement,” said PPI Executive Director Bill Sheehan. “We have recruited two remarkable individuals with significant accomplishments and passion for building a sustainable future. We’re excited about having them on board as the organization begins the next chapter in our development.”

In 2004, when PPI started organizing local governments through Product Stewardship Councils to work for state EPR policies, there were only a handful of producer responsibility recycling laws. Today, there are more than 80 producer responsibility laws in 33 states covering ten categories of products, like electronics, bottles and cans, paint and batteries.  EPR policies are now being proposed for mattresses and carpet, and PPI is working on developing and promoting EPR for consumer packaging, which currently represents 30% of the waste stream in the United States.

Leslie Mintz Tamminen (Los Angeles, CA) is a consultant for Seventh Generation Advisors, a nonprofit environmental organization in Santa Monica CA.  She is the Director of the Ocean Program, and in this capacity she facilitates the Clean Seas Coalition, a growing group of statewide environmentalists, scientists, students, and community leaders pushing California to strengthen laws reducing trash in California’s seas and on beaches. Leslie is also a California Ocean Science Trustee.   Formerly, Leslie was a special advisor to Lt. Governor John Garamendi and the Legislative Director and staff attorney for the environmental nonprofit organization Heal the Bay.

Dawn Erlandson (Minneapolis, MN) is the founder and president of Aurora Strategic Advisors, a public affairs and communications consultancy.  Dawn has 20 years of sustainability, environmental, public affairs, communications, and executive experience in Washington, D.C. and Minnesota.  Dawn leads comprehensive public affairs and marketing communications efforts for many national, state and local clients.  A social entrepreneur, Dawn launched two non-profit organizations focused on sustainable development – one in the Great Plains region and one nationally. Dawn served as Market Mechanisms Coordinator for the President's Council on Sustainable Development under Bill Clinton and as a Legislative Assistant to U.S. Senator Donald W. Riegle (D-MI).

About Product Policy Institute
Since 2003, Product Policy Institute has worked to make extended producer responsibility (EPR) the central approach to designing and managing products and packaging, so that market forces drive green design and the use and reuse of safer chemicals and more sustainable materials.  We develop policies and educational materials, and network key stakeholders to assist public interest advocates, government officials, leading companies and citizens to advocate for producer responsibility initiatives.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

NEW EPR REPORT: Americans throw away $11 billion dollars worth of packaging materials each year

By Matt Prindiville Associate Director

Our friends at As You Sow, a national non-profit organization, which “promotes environmental and social corporate responsibility through shareholder advocacy, coalition building, and innovative legal strategies,” just released a new report on extended producer responsibility (EPR) for packaging.  “Unfinished Business: The Case for Extended Producer Responsibility for Post-Consumer Packaging” reveals that the value of packaging materials that Americans throw in the trash totals around $11 billion dollars each year.  

Comprising more than 40% of the waste stream - and representing massive amounts of potentially avoided carbon emissions - America’s consumer packaging recycling rate of 48% (and 52% for paper and paperboard products) pales in comparison to countries with mature EPR programs that recycle more than 70% of their packaging.  What’s worse is that only 12.1% of plastic packaging is recycled, and more companies are turning to plastic materials for packaging due to lower costs.

Packaging materials are made from natural resources – trees, minerals, natural gas and oil – and require tremendous amounts of energy to produce from virgin feedstock.  As anyone can see from the plethora of recent documentary films around resource extraction, the mining, clear-cutting and drilling of these resources leaves a wake of ecological destruction behind.  

As Unfinished Business points out, “our locally controlled and taxpayer-funded recycling collection systems cannot effectively deal with the increasing volume and expanding array of packaging wastes. Saddled with projected deficits topping $100 billion, local governments cannot afford to invest in improving recycling systems.”  

Perhaps what is most striking about the report is the quantification of value of wasted packaging materials.  As the 2011 Tellus Report points out, we could grow 1.5 million new jobs in the United States by increasing our abysmal 34% recycling rate to 75%, already achieved in European countries with mature EPR initiatives.  We need to understand that when we toss our soda can instead of recycling it, we’re throwing American jobs in the garbage as well.  The corporations and companies that design and produce all our stuff – and all of the packaging that goes along with it – need to realize that by not participating in a solution to packaging waste, they will continue to be the primary source of the problem.  

Unfinished Business continues the drumbeat  for extended producer responsibility for packaging in the United States.  We agree with our friends at As You Sow, that EPR “will incentivize producers to reduce the amount of packaging they create, substantially increase recycling rates, provide much needed revenue to improve efficiency of recycling systems, reduce carbon footprint and energy use, and reclaim billions of dollars of embedded value now being buried in landfills or burned in waste incinerators.”

AYS has also released a very informative 3 minute video on EPR as well - - highly-recommended viewing.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Can Shopping Save the World?

By Bill Sheehan, PPI Executive Director

Annie Leonard's Story of Stuff book and web movies have broken new ground in making waste issues interesting and compelling to millions of people around the world. Her latest video, The Story of Change released on July 17th, argues that citizens – not shoppers – hold the key to a better future.  It’s so good -- and relevant to Product Policy Institute’s mission -- that we posted it on our home page.

The Story of Change explores why collective action and public policies are needed to change an economy that “puts corporate profits ahead of safe products, happy people, and a healthy planet.”  The video’s message is an antidote to the widespread assumption that the primary tool for addressing waste is individual consumer action.  As Annie explains in the video, trying to live green is important.  “It's a great place to start.  … But it's a terrible place to stop.”

The myth of the “sovereign consumer” and the need for collective action to address waste has been explored in academic literature.  Two of the best analyses I’ve read are by Michael Maniates in his chapter in Confronting Consumption, and by Samantha MacBride in Recycling Reconsidered.  MacBride argues that recycling has been embraced by corporations over reuse and source reduction because recycling doesn’t threaten profits and growth. The collective action theme was also the topic of an earlier blog in this space, From Green Consumers to Green Citizens

So how do we make big change? Annie asks.  She looks at successful movements that achieved great things, like Gandhi's campaign to get the British out of India, the US civil rights movement, and the passage of environmental laws in the US in the 1970s.  She finds three common elements: people share a big idea, they work together, and take collective action. 

Following the six-minute animated movie, viewers are encouraged to take a short quiz to assess their Changemaker Personality type (Communicator, Builder, Networker, Nurturer, Investigator or Resister), and offered an opportunity to participate in our newly launched Changemaker Challenge, a platform for crowdsourcing great Action ideas.

The Story of Change gets at the heart of Product Policy Institute's core message. Green shopping by Consumers is not enough.  We need to put on our Citizen hats and work together to change the rules of the game that encourage the production of toxic, disposable products and packaging.

 We need product policies for safe products, happy people, and a healthy planet.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Recycling Reinvented

By Matt Prindiville, Associate Director

Recently, we’ve been getting a number of questions about a newly-formed non-profit organization called Recycling Reinvented, whose mission is to increase recycling rates of waste packaging and printed material in the United States through an extended producer responsibility (EPR) model.  Hmmm…sounds a lot like what Product Policy Institute is trying to do.  In order to understand Recycling Reinvented and their place in the EPR universe, it’s important to step back and get some background.

For the past year and a half, Future 500, an organization that creates “alliances between companies and their stakeholders – even one-time adversaries – to meet the challenges of climate, water, recycling, and factory labor,” has facilitated a dialogue of stakeholders on EPR for packaging and printed paper in the US.  This was started and primarily funded by Nestle Waters North America (NWNA) and includes companies and trade associations up and down the production and recycling supply chain as well as government officials and representatives from As You Sow, California Product Stewardship Council, Northwest Product Stewardship Council, and the Product Stewardship Institute.  We joined the dialogue in the fall of 2011

NWNA has been the prime mover behind this process, driven by the seeming resolution and support for EPR from their CEO, Kim Jeffery, and the diplomacy and strategic guidance of their Sustainability Director, Michael Washburn.  As part of a campaign strategy to advance EPR for packaging legislation, NWNA provided the seed money to start Recycling Reinvented.  Kim Jeffery is a board member of the organization.  Other board members include Robert Kennedy, Jr., prominent environmental leader and Staff Attorney for NRDC; Conrad MacKerron from As You Sow, a shareholder advocacy organization; and Bill Shireman, President of Future 500. 

Paul Gardner is the Executive Director of Recycling Reinvented.  A former Democratic state legislator from Minnesota and former director of the Recycling Association of Minnesota, Paul authored and worked on several progressive recycling and EPR bills during his tenure in the legislature.  A PPI board member, Melissa Walsh Innes is the new Outreach Director.  Melissa is a sitting Democratic State Legislator in Maine, about to finish her last term.  She has been one of the foremost legislative leaders on EPR in the United States over the past four years, sponsoring the nation’s first framework EPR legislation, advocating for several other EPR bills in Maine, and co-organizing two forums for elected officials on producer responsibility.
Recycling Reinvented has developed model legislation with the help of many stakeholders, which they will be introducing in several states in 2013 and 2014.  While flawed in some critical areas (see PPI comments), the draft legislation is a good start and has solid provisions on many of the core policy issues.  Their stated goals are to bring all of the producers of packaging and paper waste into the process, create a fair playing field for financing the program, and increase the amount of recyclable materials available for manufacturers to purchase instead of using virgin materials.  In order to alleviate concerns that this initiative is a smokescreen to roll back bottle bills, they have pledged to avoid working in states with container deposit laws.

Their primary strategies for the next several months seem to be to win support from business stakeholders and key constituencies; to develop campaign messaging, capacity and infrastructure; and to conduct outreach in targeted state legislatures.  They are working with a variety of communications and campaign consultants and are seeking foundation funding among other funding sources to become a full-fledged and independent non-profit advocacy organization. 

Our assessment? Recycling Reinvented (RR) will likely introduce legislation in several states over the next two years.  They have two excellent staff who have been leaders on EPR and recycling legislation in their home states.  They also have some solid board members, with bonafide social change and environmental credentials.  They have significant resources at their disposal.  They are a force to be reckoned with. 

While we’re concerned that Nestle may have self-serving policy interests that are not in the public’s interest and/or that the eventual legislation may be too weak to have transformative impacts (or may even move in the wrong direction), Nestle, Future 500 and Recycling Reinvented have created a conversation and momentum around EPR that would have been highly improbable for public interest organizations to create on their own. 

As the saying goes, “It’s better to be at the table than on the menu.”  This is happening, and we believe that it is critical for public interest organizations to engage to steer the policy direction, while also supporting the process politically to win greater business support and keep momentum moving forward for EPR.  There will be a “rubber meets the road” moment in the fall of 2012, when RR’s model legislation is near finalized.  At that point, we will need to signify which elements we support, and which ones we will work to change in legislative proceedings.  In the interim, we are working to develop connections to public interest organizations in targeted states as a way to advance EPR for packaging in the public interest, supporting what we like in the RR bill, and advocating for what we think should be stronger or changed. 

The opposition to EPR for packaging is substantial.  NWNA is one of the only major consumer packaged goods company that has signaled vocal support for EPR for packaging.  Nearly all others, and their large and powerful trade associations, are either on the fence or opposed.  In spite of what you think about Nestle’s motives, shooting down the proposal will be the quickest route to letting massive corporations like P&G, Unilever, General Mills, Walmart and others continue avoiding taking responsibility for their packaging waste. 

That’s the goal of opposition efforts run by the Grocery Manufacturers Association and the Product Management Alliance, two powerful trade associations, working to stop any and all efforts aimed at getting producers to take responsibility for their packaging waste. 

It’s our hope that Recycling Reinvented will live up to their name, and continue to work with us on an EPR policy that designs away unrecyclable packaging, captures the 52% of all packaging that is currently wasted, and generates clean streams of materials that can be used and reused by American manufacturers.