Friday, August 30, 2013

E-waste: California's government-managed program ranks 7th in per capita collection

By Bill Sheehan, Executive Director

 A new fact sheet by Barbara Kyle of the Electronics Take-Back Coalition asks the question: How does the California e-waste program compare to other states?

California, the first state to pass an e-waste recycling law, established a consumer fee model. Consumers pay a fee at purchase on covered products
(video displays and portable DVD players) which go into a recycling fund administered by the State, reimbursing recyclers and collectors. 

Twenty three other states have adopted the “extended producer responsibility” model known as EPR. These require the manufacturers to take financial responsibility for collecting and recycling used electronics.
The fact sheet looks only at collection rates.  The bottom line:  California ranks 7th in terms of pounds collected per capita, despite its being in operation the longest and including e-waste from business which most other states don’t include.

Monday, August 26, 2013

New AMERIPEN Report Passes the Buck on Sustainable Financing for Recycling

By Matt Prindiville, Associate Director

Last week, I heard from a colleague that AMERIPEN (the American Institute for Packaging and the Environment) was releasing a new report analyzing strategies to increase the recovery of post-consumer packaging in the United States.  AMERIPEN is a trade association, representing approximately 30 companies, most of which are large, international consumer-packaged goods corporations like Proctor & Gamble, General Mills, Kraft and Pepsico.  This morning, AMERIPEN released their report Analysis of Strategies and Financial Platforms to Increase the Recovery of Used Packaging.”

The central goals of the paper are “to identify strategies and financing mechanisms used across the globe that are the most effective and efficient in recovering packaging waste and addressing financing challenges of collection, sorting, and transportation.”  The report walks through an analysis of a series of seven strategies to increase recovery of packaging.  In most cases, the analysis is good, highlighting the strengths and challenges of each approach.  In some cases as in the example of landfill surcharges, the report also provides commentary on the political feasibility of a given strategy.  In others, the analysis falls short, such as the section parroting flawed beverage-industry talking points against container deposits.  

Five of the strategies are generally delivered or mandated by government, usually local government:  Disposal Bans, Mandatory Recycling, Pay As You Throw (unit-based pricing), Advance Recycling/Disposal Fees, and Landfill Surcharges.  The other two strategies require industry to play a leading role:  Extended Producer Responsibility and Container Deposits (a form of EPR if industry manages the program). 

Not surprisingly, in the conclusion on pages 33-34, the report recommends that policy makers pursue policies implemented by local government at taxpayer expense: Pay-As-You-Throw, mandatory recycling requirements and disposal bans on recyclable packaging.  These policies require no investment by any of AMERIPEN’s member companies.  Regardless of efficacy, they summarily reject policies like extended producer responsibility (including container deposits), which require financial and/or management commitments from the companies that make up AMERIPEN’s board.

This is not to say that PAYT, recycling requirements and disposal bans aren’t good policy.  These are mostly proven strategies among a suite of necessary and useful policies to increase recycling; and they deserve support.  But without industry-financing, the costs for improving packaging recycling falls squarely on taxpayers, ratepayers and local governments, which in today’s climate means these ideas are unlikely to be pursued at a scale necessary to address the problem of widespread packaging waste.  

Unfortunately, the AMERIPEN report ultimately falls short on its promise of addressing the challenge of “balancing the need for sustainable funding of packaging waste recovery with the need to improve the efficiency of the system in order to increase material recovery.”  It completely passes the buck on industry responsibility for any financing or administration of recycling programs to meet the two challenges of sustainable financing and greater system efficiency, both of which are solved by extended producer responsibility.  

The irony is that nearly all of the AMERIPEN companies already participate in EPR-packaging systems throughout Europe, and will soon do the same for every province in Canada.  The European EPR programs are even praised by the same type of trade association representing the same companies in the EU.  

Our advice to AMERIPEN is the same that we gave to the Grocery Manufacturers Association after they released their anti-EPR report last year. Rather than fighting what its members already do in 47 other countries, AMERIPEN companies could work to create superior producer-led EPR systems in the U.S., develop predictable supplies of raw materials, and earn positive public recognition from assuming this level of corporate social responsibility.   
That wouldn’t be passing the buck.  It would be rising to the challenge.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Does it matter how we pay for recycling?

By David Stitzhal

David is a founding board member of Product Policy Institute and President of Full Circle Environmental, Inc.

Does it matter whether we pay for recycling through rates and taxes versus paying as part of the cost of the product?

As a society we define which goods and services we pay for through taxes, utility rates and service fees, and which we pay for through private transactions.  These allocation decisions have been made over time, and are not necessarily revisited often. 

Taxes are often used to pay for so-called common benefits.  We pay, for example, for pothole repair through taxes, rather than as individuals each time we come to a hole in the road.  Thus a broad public benefit is paid for through a broad financing mechanism. 

Conversely, we purchase food at stores using our personal earnings, rather than standing in line for allotments of bread and sugar issued by a central government.   The quantity of food we want, as well as the level of quality, must be paid for by individuals as they are able. 

We are accustomed to paying for garbage and recycling services broadly -- through government-mediated taxes, rates and fees (remitted to local government or private vendors). This wasn’t always the case.  Government first got involved in sanitation a century ago to protect public health.  At that time the waste stream was much simpler and could be largely composted or repurposed.  But as the waste stream has grown in complexity, toxicity and non-recyclability – attributes that are predominantly under the control of product designers and manufacturers – local government still finds itself responsible for financing disposal and recycling efforts. 

The current system locks in an inherent inequity in which people who buy selectively and therefore dispose of fewer and less toxic products still must pay into a system that inexorably subsidizes those individuals who purchase and dispose of comparatively more, and more toxic, products. 

A greater inequity however lies in the fact that because downstream disposal costs are paid for by different parties than the upstream producers who design, market and profit from the product, the producers therefore have no bottom-line, market-driven, cost-of-business incentive to take into account the disposal and toxicity impacts of their product and packaging -- much less a financial incentive to address these impacts through product re-design.
In other words, disposal costs and toxicity impacts of any given product are paid for outside the producer-consumer relationship; they are paid for broadly by ratepayers and taxpayers.  Thus Manufacturer A can over-package a toxic widget, and Manufacturer B can minimally package a less toxic, recyclable version of the same widget, yet neither one has to factor in the multiple costs of disposal, recycling or impacts from toxicity.  This free ride to the dump – free for producers, not society -- inherently subsidizes inefficiency in products and their packaging, and allows blindness to toxicity.  From a market perspective, this approach provides little incentive for producers to consider the end-of-life costs of their products and packaging. 

When we determine who should pay for something, we must ask, To whom does the good accrue?  Taxes work well when we have a broad public good, with undifferentiated benefits.  (We all benefit from a tax-funded fire department, even if our own house doesn’t ever catch fire.)  However, those narrow costs which are simply part of creating a product for sale – buying raw materials, hiring employees, running equipment, and arranging for a product’s end-of-life-management – should travel with the product.  We should not isolate one cost of doing business – in this case a product’s disposal impacts – and cover those costs through the blunt instrument of public taxation and rate setting. 

David Stitzhal can be emailed at stitzhal at 

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

EPR for Packaging in Rural British Columbia – A Lesson for the U.S.

By Raymond Gaudart

As British Columbia moves forward in implementing the first 100% producer-funded and managed collection and recovery program in North America for packaging and printed paper, issues are being raised that can serve as alerts for parties working on EPR for packaging in the United States. A specific issue is that of service levels for rural communities.  Raymond Guadart describes why the Board Chair of the Regional District of Central Kootenay (RDCK) recently wrote the Environment Minister a letter over concerns that the Steward’s plan to require that all drop-off sites be manned would close the vast majority of such sites. It is worth noting that RDCK supports EPR for packaging.  This episode illustrates the kind of issues that public-interest advocates in the US need to ensure is dealt with in legislation.
/Bill S.

As Multi Material British Columbia (MMBC) moves forward in the implementation of its approved Stewardship Plan for Printed Paper and Packaging (PPP) some flaws in the process have become very evident.  Most notably for rural and small communities in BC is the lack of a requirement for the steward to ensure adequate access to collection facilities for all residents of the province.

This requirement is one of the fundamental principles of a stewardship program as defined in the government’s Industry Product Stewardship Business Plan.  It is also a matter of public record that MMBC assured local governments during public consultations leading up to the plan approval that there would be no change in service levels.

Now local governments and non-profit societies, who provide recycling services in the majority of the province’s extensive rural areas, find themselves faced with the onerous requirement to staff and fence all recycling depots in order to qualify as a collector and receive the unilaterally imposed financial incentives offered by MMBC to continue to deliver recycling services.  The cost of meeting MMBC’s depot criteria will effectively eliminate access to recycling in large parts of rural BC.  Not even large waste management companies are likely to be able to afford to meet the criteria and remain cost effective.

There is also no provision in the approved plan to require different financial incentives dependant on distance from processing facilities or an adjustment for increased costs over the duration of a five year contract (the likely length of an agreement with MMBC).

Perhaps it is time for the Province of British Columbia to recognize that its non-prescriptive approach to EPR doesn’t work in this instance.  There need to be some criteria included in an approved stewardship plan for PPP that include guarantees of adequate access for all residents.  Likewise, there needs to be recognition that the cost of delivering services will vary from metropolitan centres to rural areas, and that costs do not remain constant over the course of a five year period.

There is an excellent opportunity in this process for British Columbia to refine its approach to EPR to ensure the potential it offers for both eliminating taxpayer subsidies for the production of waste and encouraging industry to minimize its production of waste through Design for Environment. 

Friday, August 2, 2013

Environmental Groups Target Battery Maker Rayovac for Bad Record on Recycling

August 2, 2013
Contact: Andrew Dobbs, Texas Campaign for the Environment (512) 326-5655,
Matt Prindiville, Product Policy Institute, (207) 902-0054,

Environmental Groups Target Battery Maker Rayovac for Bad Record on Recycling
Texas group leads the effort to press number 3 battery maker to catch up to competitors

A coalition of environmental groups have announced a campaign to press Rayovac, a major battery manufacturer, to step up their efforts on recycling and waste reduction. Texas Campaign for the Environment—TCE, a nonprofit, grassroots group known for its work on electronic waste recycling—asked Rayovac in May to begin taking back their batteries for recycling. Now TCE has been joined by 26 other organizations from across the country calling on Rayovac , to provide recycling for their  batteries in the U.S., as they do in Europe. 

“Rayovac is falling behind their competitors when it comes to battery recycling, and it’s past time for them to join these efforts toward sustainability,” Robin Schneider, Executive Director of Texas Campaign for the Environment said. “We want them to take back their batteries for recycling, to set meaningful goals for these collections and to support legislation which would create a level playing field for battery recycling. These solutions have worked for electronics and a variety of other products nationwide, and now we want Rayovac to help make it a reality for batteries.”

Rayovac is one of the four largest manufacturers of single-use batteries. Duracell, Energizer and Panasonic have all taken steps towards establishing battery takeback recycling for consumers. These companies have formed the Corporation for Battery Recycling, but Rayovac pulled out of the group and instead instructs its customers to dispose of their batteries in the household trash. Single-use batteries are banned from disposal in California and Europe, and are considered “universal waste” by the EPA—a category of widely produced, potentially hazardous products which should be kept out of normal disposal streams whenever possible. Rayovac also produces rechargeable batteries which are toxic and even more widely banned from disposal.

“People ask me all the time about what they should do with their spent batteries, and unfortunately in most places we don’t have good options” said Matt Prindiville, Associate Director for the Product Policy Institute, a national environmental advocacy organization working to make products and packaging more sustainable.  “Now, a group of battery manufacturers has come forward to set up recycling programs, but Rayovac, one of the largest manufacturers, has pulled out.  Apparently, they’re comfortable with letting other people clean up their mess.  This is unacceptable.”

Texas Campaign for the Environment privately called upon Rayovac, as well as lighting manufacturers Philips, GE and Sylvania to take their products back for recycling in May, and Rayovac, Philips and Sylvania responded with a refusal in June.  Most modern lighting is also toxic, and major manufacturers have declined to offer their consumers responsible solutions for disposal or recycling. TCE was joined in their public response by organizations from 11 states, including:

·        Recycle Worlds Consulting, based in Madison, Wisconsin
·        Clean Water Action Council of Northeast Wisconsin
·        Northeast Wisconsin Zero Waste Coalition
·        ReThink Wisconsin, a University of Wisconsin-Madison student group
·        Nothing Left to Waste, based in Minneapolis, Minnesota
·        Eureka Recycling, based in Minneapolis, Minnesota
·        Michigan Clean Water Action
·        the New Jersey Environmental Federation
·        Rhode Island Clean Water Action
·        Massachusetts Clean Water Action
·        California Clean Water Action
·        The Product Policy Institute, a national organization headquartered in Rockland, Maine
·        Safe Minds, a national organization headquartered in Huntington Beach, California
·        Citizens’ Campaign for the Environment, based in Farmingdale, New York and Hamden, Connecticut
·        Clean and Healthy New York, based in Albandy, New York
·        Vermont Public Interest Research Group, based in Montpelier, Vermont
·        Zero Waste Detroit
·        CRADLE2, based in Augusta, Maine
·        Sustainable Energy and Economic Development (SEED) Coalition, based in Austin, Texas
·        Basel Action Network, an international organization based in Seattle, Washington
·        Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA), an international organization based in Berkeley, California
·        Electronics Takeback Coalition, based in San Francisco, California
·        International Campaign for Responsible Technology, based in San Jose, California
·        Eco-Cycle, based in Boulder, Colorado

TCE hopes to bring groups from around the country together in a widespread, creative campaign to change the companies’ policies. The group was especially encouraged by the support found in Wisconsin, home to Rayovac’s parent company, Spectrum Brands.

“We are not afraid to take on big companies that are doing too little for the planet,” Schneider said.  “We are also excited when we get to move from opposition to cooperation, and we expect that Rayovac and the lighting companies will make changes sooner rather than later. Until then, we intend to organize support to hold these irresponsible companies accountable.”

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Towards a progressive vision of Zero Waste

By Helen Spiegelman and George Spiegelman

Helen is co-founder and past President of Product Policy Institute.  Her husband George recently retired as professor from the University of British Columbia.

Two reports appeared this year that focus on “green job” opportunities fromnew approaches to waste management and prevention.

Closing the Loop: Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Creating Green Jobs through Zero Waste in British Columbia is part of the Climate Justice Project, a 5-year research project led by the Canadian Council for Policy Alternatives BC Chapter and the University of British Columbia looking at the social and economic impacts of climate change and developing “innovative green policy solutions that are both effective and equitable.”

Transforming Trash in Urban America was produced by Partnership for Working Families, a national network of organizations that work for solutions to the nation’s economic and environmental problems.

The two reports are quite different in tone and perspective, but they both arise from a shared premise that social justice must be a key focus of environmental and economic policies, including waste management.

Key differences

Transforming Trash proposes solutions framed around so-called “Sustainable Recycling.” This encompasses “robust recycling programs” along with “high-road job quality” and economic development policies. The core issue for many of the groups that comprise Partnership for Working Families is the deindustrialization of America, the flight of jobs overseas, the shrinking middle class, and the marginalization of vulnerable groups. The paper suggests that a shift from the traditional burn-and-bury approach to waste management and adoption of the Sustainable Recycling approach would create new green job opportunities, especially for marginalized workers.

Closing the Loop proposes solutions to waste management that are aimed at addressing a broader economic, social and environmental problem: the high material and energy throughput of the global economy, which is causing a range of impacts including, notably, climate change. The Zero Waste approach proposed by Closing the Loop starts upstream of the waste management system, aiming to reduce the volume of materials that flow through the economy, hence reducing emissions, while maintaining a high quality of life. Since the shift would reduce environmental impacts, the jobs generated by the policies would be "green jobs".

Transforming Trash surveys 37 major American cities and identifies cities that the authors conclude have achieved “complete, intermediate and early-stages of progress.” They also describe policies and practices they have been adopted. These include municipal interventions in the waste industry through specific language in contracts with waste management companies and through regulations.

While Transforming Trash has a significant focus on raising the job quality within the collection and processing of municipal waste sector, there is less consideration of job opportunities in activities that would reduce material that is currently trashed, by reducing the amount of material that enters the waste management system. Nor does Transforming Trash relate how the new green jobs it proposes mesh, or don't mesh, with the broader economy.

Closing the Loop looks specifically at British Columbia. The focus is not just municipal and provincial waste management programs but at the economy as whole. The analysis includes material flows, GHG emissions, and the potential for reduction in emissions through different strategies.  The report includes a section on developing an agenda for green jobs drawing on statistics from other countries.

Closing the Loop acknowledges that British Columbia is currently largely a resource extraction/export economy and raises the possibility that resource recovery could become a new source of materials, with the possibility of establishing domestic manufacturing jobs related to materials recovery (in addition to jobs in reuse and repair).


In actuality, Transforming Trash has little to do with "transforming trash."  It's primarily about transforming the working and social conditions of people already working within the traditional trash sector.  ”Sustainable Recycling” would expand current activities in collection and processing of specific materials (those deemed “recyclable”) but, because the focus is entirely internal to the existing waste management process, there is nothing to drive a reduction in waste. In fact, entrenchment of green jobs in the current waste management system creates a dependency on the continued production of high quantities of energy-intensive materials needing to be managed. Such a narrowly defined Green Jobs agenda falls short of addressing the larger problem of the “deindustrialization” of America since it only considers jobs downstream of production.

Closing the Loop attempts to find policies not only to reduce the quantity of material used and discarded in the industrial system, but also to introduce new job opportunities in areas outside of traditional waste management. The report recommends exploring public policies that would diversify local economies and would include product maintenance, repair, and reuse of products and materials as well as locally based manufacturing to create markets for recovered materials. 

Are the reports contradictory?  No.  Both reports emphasize the need to ensure good working conditions.  But while Transforming Trash`s scope is limited to jobs within the traditional waste management sector, Closing the Loop argues the need to change the industrial system that produces so much waste in order to create new opportunities for working people in our local communities.

In the section on Green Jobs,  Closing the Loop doesn`t go as far as Transforming Trash in providing specific examples and mechanisms that municipal policy can provide to ensure equitable pay and job safety for workers in the waste management sector (for instance, the city of Seattle’s contracting system requires wage minimums and collective bargaining agreements for collection workers). Closing the Loop is more explicit about establishing links between material recovery and local manufacturing than is Transforming Trash.  In particular, Closing the Loop provides a potential agenda for waste prevention policies such as EPR requirements, mandatory warranties on products, cooperative purchasing – all aimed at moving the focus up the Pollution Prevention Hierarchy.

Sustainable reindustrialization

The Transforming Trash report calls for reforms in the handling of post-consumer materials, insisting they be recycled instead of trashed.  This approach will reduce some environmental impacts (land and water contamination from disposal facilities). However, treating waste as a “resource” creates a market for waste and expands a sector of the workforce that is economically dependent on waste.  

The Closing the Loop report calls for broader reforms to the industrial system: insisting on reductions in the flow of materials and energy.  This approach entails wide-ranging reforms:  imposing responsibilities on corporate entities, forcing them to warranty their products for longer periods, banning certain products outright, or requiring producers to ensure take-back services are available when a product is no longer serviceable.

There is little debate around the core issues underlying these two positions. There is general agreement that the global industrial system is excluding too many people from participation with disastrous social impacts to communities. There is also general agreement that the global industrial system is using too much “stuff” and that this is causing not only environmental impacts but social impacts.

It is worth asking if it is reasonable to expect a sustainable “reindustrialization” of America through jobs that depend on excessive material and energy flows. Further, is it reasonable to expect that a new economy can be built from the end of a pipe that carries products and packaging not designed to be recovered, or reused?  

The alternative presented by Closing the Loop is based on a reform of the industrial system to make it more conserving of materials and energy and more locally diversified, providing a range of good family-supporting jobs in every community. This alternative is challenging. It means reclaiming public control of a much broader range of economic activity than governments have at the current time. It means dispelling the neo-conservative economic myth of infinite resources that got us into trouble in the first place.