Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Plastic Bag Ban Trumps Take-Back Recycling

By Bill Sheehan, Executive Director
The story below is an illustration of how EPR is only one tool in the toolbox, and how it can be twisted to thwart more fundamental policy solutions – in this case an outright ban – that can deliver better environmental outcomes. Source reduction before recycling.

Banning toxic chemicals is another example.  Take-back regulations for toxic-containing products should only be applied to essential products for which there are no available alternatives.

From PlasticsNews
August 26, 2012 

Illinois governor vetoes plastic bag law 


CHICAGO (Aug. 26, 11:15 p.m. ET) -- Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn has vetoed a plastic bag recycling bill that would have made it more difficult for most communities in the state to ban single-use plastic bags.

Quinn vetoed the bill on Aug. 26. The legislation had been supported by some plastic bag manufacturers.

“While well-intentioned, this legislation is a roadblock to innovation that would do little to boost recycling in Illinois. We can do better,” Quinn said in a statement. “Let’s not tie the hands of innovative Illinois municipalities that are laboratories of reform for Illinois."

The bill would have prevented all communities in Illinois except Chicago from banning single-use plastic bags.

The bill had attracted nationwide attention, with environmentalists lining up against it, even though it would have aimed to increase recycling of plastic bags and other plastic films.

The veto is a victory for Abby Goldberg, a 13-year-old from Grayslake, Ill., who had launched a petition drive against the bill. Goldberg wanted her community to ban plastic bags, and in July she personally delivered a petition with more than 150,000 signatures urging the veto.

On Aug. 26, Goldberg sent a message to her Twitter followers that the battle is not over.

"OK, thanks are done, time to role up our sleeves again!" she wrote to backers who were congratulating her on the victory. "Encourage [Illinois] legislators to not override veto!!!!!!" she wrote.

The veto is a loss for the plastics industry, which had supported the bill. David Asselin, executive director of the American Progressive Bag Alliance, recently said the bill was "good for our environment and good for Illinois’ economy," in a letter to the Springfield, Ill., Journal Register.

"What’s more, it was based on the optimistic notion that middle ground can be found, that compromises in legislation are still possible, and that they work. Policy can work to the benefit of all involved when entrepreneurs and government work together. This is how policy should be made," Asselin wrote.

The bill would have forced bag manufacturers to register with the state, pay a $500 registration fee and develop a plan to recycle the bags. According to the bill, at least 75 percent of the state’s population would be required to live within 10 miles of a plastic bag recycling drop-off area by 2014. That number rises to 80 percent in 2015.

Also, the percentage of recycled plastic bags would have increased by 12 percent between 2014 and 2015. If the recycling increase fell short, manufacturers would have had to detail why it was not met.

Photo Credit: Plastic Pollution Coalition

Monday, August 20, 2012

Oregon’s 2050 Vision for Materials Management

By Abby Boudouris, Policy Analyst, Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, Solid Waste Policy and Program Development.

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, with the help of a stakeholder advisory group, has drafted a 2050 Vision and Framework for Action for Materials Management in Oregon. The document updates the state’s solid waste management plan and addresses how Oregon can reduce environmental impacts by managing materials throughout their life, including extraction, production, use and end-of-life management.

DEQ is seeking input on the draft document thru August 24. A mid-July webinar about the proposed vision was well received, drawing praise and suggestions. DEQ expects to present the revised 2050 Vision document to the Oregon Environmental Quality Commission in December 2012 for approval. The document will then serve as a guide as DEQ considers ideas and develops policies and rules to govern materials management in the state.   Learn more at  http://www.deq.state.or.us/lq/sw/materialsmgmtplan.htm

2050 Vision for Materials Management in Oregon

Oregonians in 2050 live well, responsibly producing and using materials, conserving resources, and restoring the environment.
  1. Recognizing that Earth's resources are finite, Oregonians live within the limits of our sustainable share of the world's natural resources.  We make materials and products in a manner that maintains a healthy environment and fertile soils.  Materials and products minimize the use and release of toxins, the release of greenhouse gases and pollutants, the use of energy and water, and the extraction of non-renewable materials.

  2. We use renewable resources at levels that can be sustained in perpetuity while maintaining the resiliency of natural systems.  The materials and products we purchase in Oregon similarly are made in a manner that supports human health and maintains healthy, resilient environments and communities, wherever they are made.

  3. We take into account the full impacts of materials throughout their life cycle.  When materials and products are no longer useable or wanted, we recover them for their next highest and best use.  We minimize harmful disturbance of land and natural ecosystems, using resources in a responsible way only as necessary to meet human needs and maintain healthy, vibrant communities.

  4. All Oregonians have access to the knowledge, capabilities, resources, and services required to use materials responsibly.  This vision provides a prosperous and clean economy that allows all people to live fulfilling lives, now and in the future.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

EPR is Good Business

By Resa A. Dimino

Resa A. Dimino is a consultant providing sustainable materials management policy and planning services.  She serves on the board of directors of the New York Product Stewardship Council which was created to advocate for EPR in New York. To learn more about the New York Product Stewardship Council visit www.nypsc.org

Many recycling and waste management stakeholders are embracing the new business opportunities and cost savings created by Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) programs.  While EPR, also referred to as product stewardship, is a concern for some, it is a boon for local governments, recycling businesses, and the public.  It’s also good in the long run for the companies that take life-cycle responsibility for their products, though some haven’t realized that yet.

Implementing EPR shifts our waste management system from one focused on government funded and ratepayer financed programs to one that develops manufacturer responsibility for managing products at the end of their useful lives.  The intent is to encourage producers to improve design and promote environmental sustainability, increase recycling and reuse, and create green jobs.

Over the past twenty years, local governments and the waste management industry have invested millions to achieve dramatic increases in recycling rates.  Municipalities across the country have accepted the challenge of implementing recycling laws and programs, even when markets were bad or non-existent.  But as the complexity and diversity of the waste stream has grown, that challenge has become more of a burden.  Solid waste managers are problem solvers by nature, but there comes a time when we all realize our limitations.  

Local solid waste managers have gravitated to EPR policy not because they want to give up responsibility – indeed that is a difficult pill for many local waste managers to swallow—but because they realize that government cannot solve this particular set of problems alone.  Local governments have no control over how products are designed and put into the marketplace, yet ultimately they bear the brunt of the end of life handling costs.  At a time when municipal programs are facing budget cuts, staffing losses, and otherwise struggling to make progress, EPR offers the opportunity to solve some very challenging problems. 

Consider mercury-containing thermostats.  Each thermostat contains as much mercury as more than 800 CFL bulbs.    Local waste managers have a desire to keep these materials out of the waste stream, but the cost is significant.  A voluntary industry program has not stemmed the tide of these problematic products – the Thermostat Recycling Corporation’s program diverts only a small fraction of the thermostats discarded annually.

EPR’s economic benefits extend beyond providing relief for local ratepayers and taxpayers.  Recycling entrepreneurs often have the answers to some of our most vexing problems, but there may be costs involved.  Take electronics recycling, for example.  New York had a good core of e-waste recycling businesses when the state’s EPR law went into effect in 2010.  Their business was limited, however, to communities that were willing to, or private entities that were required to, pay for the management of this rapidly expanding waste stream. These e-waste recycling companies have grown dramatically under EPR, creating jobs that are helping our state recover from the recession.  The cost to manufacturers is small compared to the benefit to the environment, to the local ratepayers, and to the state’s economy.  

Effective EPR programs will clearly define the goals and performance objectives for industry, but give companies the flexibility to implement programs most efficiently. When the people who design products factor in end of life management, the products may become cleaner and greener.  

Many companies that have embraced EPR voluntarily have seen huge financial gains.  Take Xerox, for example.  When they began to design for disassembly and view the copiers returned from lessees as a resource, they saved $20 million per year in waste disposal costs.  Putting the right policy drivers in place can make these kinds of savings possible for other industries too.      

For all of these reasons, many producers have embraced EPR.  Both the electronics and paint industries, for example, have worked closely with stakeholders to develop EPR legislation that works for all involved. 

Other industries would be well served to follow their lead and join local governments and advocates to formulate smart and effective EPR programs.  Collaboration will ensure that EPR works for the environment, the economy and the public.  

This blog is revised from an opinion piece originally published in Waste & Recycling News.  See http://www.wasterecyclingnews.com/article/20120709/OPINION/120709941/other-voices-producer-responsibility-laws-benefit-businesses-public.