Friday, September 14, 2012

Motivating Business Action to End Packaging Waste

Bill and I just returned from an incredible couple of days at the Sustainable Packaging Forum, where I was invited to speak to an audience of 250 sustainability executives from major consumer goods companies and packaging manufacturers on ending packaging waste.  I've attached my remarks below.

Sustainable Packaging Forum
Matt Prindiville, Product Policy Institute

Good afternoon, everyone.  It’s a real privilege and honor to be here with you today.  My name is Matt Prindiville, and I’m the Associate Director for the Product Policy Institute.  We are a national non-profit organization dedicated to mitigating the environmental impacts of products and packaging.  Over the past decade, I’ve had the opportunity to be a part of several key public policy campaigns that were all trying to do something that hadn’t been done before – to pass first-in-the-nation legislation to help pave the way for more sustainable products. 

Now I know what you’re probably thinking.  I would guess that the last thing you folks think of when you’re talking sustainable product innovation is the messy, and often ugly, business of policy-making in State Houses and in Congress.  And it’s true, that the incredible work you do every day to solve problems and make your companies and your products more sustainable yields huge environmental and social benefits. 

What’s also true is that some problems cannot be solved by one company working alone, or even loosely allied through trade associations.  These are problems that call for a shift in the way we do things for everyone involved, and it’s often these types of problems that are the most difficult to solve because it requires shifting from the landscape of the status quo, where the advantages and disadvantages are known and accounted for – to the landscape of the new paradigm, where the terrain is uncertain and the path is not clear, and that can be very scary; especially for big companies locked in fierce competition in a down economy.

The problem of packaging waste is one of those problems. 

Many of you know the statistics – packaging is about a third of the waste stream.   Over half of all consumer packaging winds up in the garbage.  If you take out corrugated cardboard, the recovery rate for consumer packaging falls to an abysmal 26%.  And it only gets worse with plastic, where only 12% of plastic packaging is collected for recycling. 

And we all know where this stuff ends up – as roadside litter, dioxin emissions from incinerators, contaminated leachate from landfills, the unnecessary depletion of natural resources, marine debris that fouls our beaches and kills wildlife and leads to the toxic garbage patches around the world’s oceans, and as lost opportunities to grow American jobs at a time when we desperately need them.  By some estimates, the total value of wasted recyclable consumer packaging is around $11 billion each year.   This is a staggering waste of resources, financial, natural and human - and represents a complete failure of the market and our current recycling system to adequately address this problem.

So now, let’s flip the paradigm.  To use the language from this morning, let’s imagine a world without packaging waste, where all packaging is being reused, recycled or composted.  Imagine the impact on our environment, on our forests, oceans, and wildlife.  Imagine the impact on the economy, with potentially over a million new jobs created. Imagine the impact on your companies’ carbon footprint, and your customers’ happiness, loyalty and confidence in your products and your company.

How cool is it that you are one of the people helping to make this happen.  Right here today, sharing ideas together, strategizing together, making plans together is a part of how we’re making this happen.

So how do we get there?  How do we chart the path in order to create the future we all want?

A number of people, myself and my organization included, are rallying behind the concept of extended producer responsibility.  Why? 

Because projected deficits for local governments are around $100 billion for this year.  Because we don’t see local governments and city councilors – who mostly look at waste and recycling as a line item liability on the city budget – as leading us toward a system where packaging is designed to be reused and recycled, or where there is enough effective infrastructure to efficiently capture and process it into new products.

But you can.  You are the innovators.  You are the problem-solvers.  You are the folks that make our economy grow. 

And you are also deeply implicated in this problem, and I believe you have a moral imperative to solve it. 

So what’s needed?  For every big problem-solving campaign that I’ve worked on, it’s taken big, broad coalitions with strong capable leaders from every important constituency – business, public interest advocates, local officials, policy-makers and everyday people. 

We were told we were never going to get EPR for electronics, but the Electronics Takeback Coalition came together, and local government officials got involved, and then in 2003, Hewlett Packard and Dell stepped up, and it was a whole new ballgame.  And today, there are 24 EPR laws for electronics covering the vast majority of the nation’s population. 

We were told that state chemicals policy to drive the use of safer chemicals was a crazy idea, but then doctors, nurses, and scientists started showing up to testify, and when big companies started voicing support, we knew that something had dramatically changed.  And laws were passed in Maine, California and Washington, and I strongly believe that we will see a modernization of the Toxics Substances Control Act in the next Congress, regardless of which party is in power in Washington – because it’s the right thing to do, and because the Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families Coalition is working with businesses, health care professionals and everyday citizens to make it happen.

And that is exactly what we’re doing with packaging waste.  My organization is working with campaign partners around the country to build a national movement to address packaging and product waste.  Called the CRADLE2 coalition, we are organizing state-based public interest groups to effectively educate policy makers, build business support and successfully campaign for EPR legislation.   And with Nestle Waters and other companies coming out in support of EPR for packaging, the landscape has changed… permanently.

We know this because the predictable signs of change are coming up.  You all know them.  What are some of the first signs of a paradigm shift?
·       Denial
·       Despair
·       Massive resistance
·       Pushback

And that’s OK.  These are all part of the creative process.  When they show up, you know something big is happening.  You also know that there are issues to work out.  Ideas and policies to refine.   No great work of social change or significant piece of public policy comes into being without resistance.  Its energy is often what motivates action, debate and compromise and is the necessary fuel for big ideas to come into existence.

And folks, we need big ideas.  We need them right now.  Because here are the results of non-action.  We see them every day.   This is not the theory of what will happen.  This is the absolute result of what we’ve been doing wrong for the past 50 years. 

You all gathered here today can help change this.  You can work to transform your companies to come together with public interest groups and policy makers to solve these problems.  Yes we’re going to have to think outside the box.  Yes, we’re going to have to be open to new ideas.  Yes, a part of change is resistance, but the resistance can motivate us.  It can energize us.  And it can lead us to solutions we haven’t thought of yet.

I believe the destination is worth it, and I also believe we’re assured to get there if folks like you get involved. 

Thank you for listening. 

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