Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Environmental Paper Network Interview with PPI

September's Featured Member: Product Policy Institute

By: Suzanna Baum

Added: Sep 20, 2012
Hello again! It’s time for another interview with one of our amazing members.  Every month I pick an organization to feature so that our network can get a more intricate feel for each other’s work.  This month I got to know Bill Sheehan, Executive Director at the Product Policy Institute.  PPI focuses on North American policies that extend manufacturers' responsibility for their products and packaging to the post-consumer stage, with the aim of driving green design.
SB:  What was the inspiration for you personally in launching the Product Policy Institute?
BS:   Before launching Product Policy Institute I co-founded and ran for eight years the Grassroots Recycling Network.  There we promoted the goal of “zero waste.”  I came to realize that the real problem with waste is at the design stage. Commodity chains are increasingly global and increasingly dependent on a big box retail model that emphasizes low profit margins based on high throughput.  (This is especially true for forest products.)  The result is that most manufactured products and packaging are designed to be thrown away.
So in 2003 I started the Product Policy Institute.  We’re a North American NGO working on policy solutions for unsustainable product and packaging waste. I started PPI because I came to realize that achieving zero waste is going to take more than individual actions of “green” consumers or governments building more infrastructure to manage whatever companies choose to put on the market. Sustainability is going to take collective actions by citizens, a new role for government, and policies that hold corporations responsible for the impacts of their products throughout the products’ life-cycles, including when consumers are done with them.  If you have to plan for how you’re going to get your product back before you can put it on the market, then you’re going to think twice about the cost of producing toxic, disposable products.
SB: What is Extended Producer Responsibility and what advantages does it offer over traditional systems of waste management?
BS:   Producer responsibility means whoever designs, produces, sells, or uses a product takes responsibility for minimizing the product's environmental impact throughout all stages of the products' life cycle.  And the party having the greatest ability to minimize impacts, the producer, has the most responsibility. 
EPR is a mandatory type of product stewardship that includes, at a minimum, the requirement that the producer’s responsibility for their product extends to post-consumer management of that product and its packaging. There are two related features of EPR policy: (1) shifting financial and management responsibility, with government oversight, upstream to the producer and away from the public sector; and (2) providing incentives to producers to incorporate environmental considerations into the design of their products and packaging.
One of the oldest examples of producer responsibility take-back systems was the nickel that soda companies used to pay to get their glass bottles back.
What is “traditional” waste management?  Before the last century, waste was a lot simpler and was generally provided by private sector entrepreneurs like rag-and-bone collectors.  Due to a public health crisis local governments got involved at the turn of the 19th Century. The nature of waste morphed over the course of the 20th Century into products and packaging increasingly designed for the dump.  Many local governments took on responsibility for collecting manufactured discards for recycling only about three decades ago – at the same time, interestingly, that Europe was turning to EPR for packaging and other products. 
The core problem with extended government responsibility (EGR) for manufactured discards is that local government programs do not relay market signals back to the brands that design and market products and packaging.  Not only does the current EGR system enable, or even encourage, the production of throwaway and toxic products, it is pretty inefficient.  Despite some outstanding community programs, thousands of community programs all collecting a different mix of materials in different ways, and accountable to local politicians with little understanding of global commodity markets, has resulted in stagnant national recycling rates and two-thirds of our discards being landfilled or incinerated.  What’s more, local governments are broke.
SB: Over the past decade, has Extended Producer Responsibility gained more support and momentum as a policy solution to managing materials and reducing waste?  What progress has been made?
BS:   Over the past decade EPR has blossomed as a policy solution for managing waste in the US.  Most of the action is at the state level.  More than 50 EPR laws have been passed in 32 states covering nine product categories, plus a “framework EPR” law in Maine.  Most EPR laws to date have addressed hazardous products such as paint, batteries, mercury containing products like lamps and thermostats, and above all electronic products. There are now 24 states with producer responsibility “e-waste” laws.
But in the last couple of years EPR has turned increasingly to bulky products, like mattresses and carpet, and to packaging and printed paper – which intersects with EPN members’ interests. 
Canada, by the way, has adopted a road map in which producer responsibility is to be applied to virtually all products and packaging in all provinces by 2018 – even to construction materials.  British Columbia is currently the first jurisdiction in North America implementing full producer responsibility for packaging and printed paper, with programs scheduled to be operational in 2014.
SB: What’s the goal of your new initiative, the CRADLE2 Coalition and who is a part of it?
BS:   The CRADLE² Coalition includes more than 40 public interest organizations from around the country concerned about the squandering of natural resources, the impacts on climate change, and the loss of jobs from wasting valuable, recyclable materials in landfills and incinerators. 
The goal of the Coalition is to build support for producer responsibility initiatives across the United States that result in source reduction and reuse and recycling what’s left.  Our long term vision is to build the political power to have states adopt EPR policies for virtually all products and packaging in the waste stream.
The Coalition is coordinated by Product Policy Institute.  The steering committee is composed of PPI and nine state-based advocacy organizations with track records of getting state producer responsibility legislation adopted: Sierra Club California, Natural Resources Council of Maine, the New York and Vermont Public Interest Groups, Texas Campaign for the Environment, Zero Waste Washington, Clean Water Funds of Massachusetts and Rhode Island, and Minnesota-based Eureka Recycling.
SB: Paper has a relatively high recovery rate compared to other products, but still a massive amount of volume entering landfills instead of being recovered.  Could EPR potentially help increase the quality and volume of paper that is recovered?
BS:   Paper constitutes almost two-thirds of post-consumer “Packaging and Printed Paper,” a basket of goods that is currently the focus of legislative activity in the U.S. and Canada.  Without cardboard, the recovery rate for paper-based packaging is only 25%, according to U.S. EPA.  The recovery rate for printed paper is only 53%. A total of 27 million tons of paper – 173 pounds per person -- winds up in landfills and incinerators every year.  This represents a staggering waste of materials, and leads to greater stress on our planetary ecosystems from manufacturers relying on virgin natural resources rather than recycled materials. 
We believe that producer responsibility policies for packaging and printed paper (which could include minimum recycled content standards) are the single most effective means of increasing the supply and utilization of recycled paper, as evidenced by mature producer responsibility systems in Europe.  Whether EPR increases the qualityof recovered paper depends on public interest organizations ensuring that legislation includes high and continually increasing utilization rates along with accountability mechanisms.
SB: Why is Product Policy Institute engaged with EPN as a member organization?
BS:   Years ago Jake Kreilik came up with the phrase, “stumps to dumps.”  That captures for me the link between forest/paper activists and zero waste/recycling advocates.  Forest products are such a huge part of our economy that we cannot address sustainable production and consumption without addressing paper and wood products.  We believe that grassroots engagement and public interest organizations are critical to steering positive change, and EPN member organizations are the leaders in this area.
Thanks for getting to know PPI.  Please keep an eye out in October for our next featured member!

1 comment:

  1. That captures for me the link between forest/paper activists and zero waste/recycling advocates. PPI Claims Management


Comments are screened before they post. Thank you.