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. 

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