Developing product stewardship in the U.S.
By David Nightingale, CHMM, S.C.

Over the past two decades, product stewardship initiatives have evolved and grown in the U.S. While some of the earliest pioneering work was instigated by local and state government efforts such as the Northwest Product Stewardship Council, the national effort was spearheaded by Scott Cassel, the founder of the Product Stewardship Institute.

In this month’s article, we have part one of an interview with Scott Cassel to find out what inspired him to create the Product Stewardship Institute as well as exploring the differences and performances of voluntary product stewardship programs versus extended  producer responsibility programs in the US.

HHW Corner: Where did you first learn about and then pursue product stewardship?
Scott Cassel: As early as 1986, before entering graduate school, I had heard about and was quite interested in the concept of internalizing economic externalities by holding producers financially responsible for managing their end-of-life products. Then, in 1998, I was serving as the President of NAHMMA (North American Hazardous Materials Management Association) and at the annual conference that year there was a keynote address by Ron Dreidger from the British Columbia Ministry of the Environment about product stewardship. That keynote address rekindled my interest in product stewardship and motivated me to do something meaningful in that space. This initially led me to devote several sessions at NAHMMA conferences starting in 1999 on product stewardship, which have continued as a normal part of those conferences.

HHW Corner: How did you get organized to create the Product Stewardship Institute?
Scott Cassel: I was working for the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs as the Director of Waste Policy and Planning at the time and told my boss, Gina McCarthy (former U.S. EPA Administrator and now federal domestic Climate Change Coordinator), that I wanted to start a new organization to address product stewardship in the US. Gina asked me to create a business plan for the creation of this new organization. That planning exercise helped me formulate a strategy to create what became the Product Stewardship Institute. As the President of NAHMMA, I had a network of professional contacts from across the U.S. I leveraged that network to discern what were their top solid waste management issues. Those top issues were paint, mercury products, carpet, tires, pesticides and, finally, electronic wastes as the hot emerging issue. Based on that feedback, I developed a conference agenda with electronics as the main plenary topic. Coincidentally, that conference was the platform that was used to announce the formation of the Product Stewardship Institute, PSI. That announcement was made 20 years ago on December 5, 2000.

HHW Corner: What is the difference between product stewardship and extended producer responsibility?
Scott Cassel: Both of these terms have producer responsibility at their core. The fundamental concept is that manufacturers should take responsibility for their products throughout their lifecycles. This includes upstream production considerations such as sourcing of raw materials responsibly, as well as downstream post-consumer product management. As used in the U.S., product stewardship is the broader term, which encompasses programs that include voluntary and mandatory programs. Product stewardship can include voluntary company take-back initiatives or government bans on products and packaging.  Extended Producer Responsibility, EPR, is a subset of product stewardship that refers to government-mandated programs that set up a comprehensive system that requires producers to finance and manage programs to collect post-consumer products and packaging for reuse, recycling, composting or safe disposal. Product stewardship laws are most often passed at the state level as shown in Figure 1.


Figure 1: Number of EPR laws passed by state. Figure courtesy of the Product Stewardship Institute.


As programs started to develop in the U.S., some industries were purposely mixing up the terms to cause confusion. PSI worked with the California Product Stewardship Council and Product Policy
Institute (now called Upstream) to come up with common terminology in 2011.1 I intentionally chose to incorporate the phrase product stewardship into the name of PSI to include a broader set of program and policy options. Regardless of whether a product stewardship program is voluntary or mandatory, the central tenet is that producers take financial and management responsibility for at least their post-consumer products if not also the upstream design and entire lifecycle of their products.

HHW Corner: Why would a locality or state choose a voluntary versus mandatory product stewardship option?
Scott Cassel: Different jurisdictions have different appetites or comfort with voluntary or mandatory program designs. A voluntary program may be considered a reasonable starting point for a state with little history of product stewardship, whereas a state with a successful history of implementing product stewardship programs might be comfortable passing additional EPR programs.

Ultimately, EPR programs clearly perform at higher levels than voluntary programs. EPR programs have a number of advantages including:
• Enhanced positive industry public exposure, “good citizen” status
• All producers have a level playing field and none are allowed an economic advantage by not participating in the program
• Higher levels of recovery and recycling of materials to enhance the circular economy
• Better economies of scale for all participants
• Significant reductions in public sector waste management costs2

HHW Corner: What are some examples of existing national voluntary product stewardship programs?
Scott Cassel: The Call2Recycle program, which mainly recovers rechargeable batteries, has been in place since the mid-1990s and is probably the most effective voluntary product stewardship program in the U.S. This was created in response to the problem of toxic cadmium from nickel-cadmium batteries in the waste stream. Minnesota, Florida and other states passed legislation to address this issue, so the industry got Congress to pass a national law, which authorized a consistent national rechargeable battery recycling program to avoid a patchwork of state programs.

Although a relatively effective voluntary program, Call2Recycle is only capturing somewhere between 12 and 15 percent of their rechargeable batteries after about 25 years of their program. This means that the majority of the rechargeable batteries are still ending up in the solid waste stream, landfills, MRFs, and waste-to-energy facilities.

In a similar vein, the Thermostat Recycling Corporation was set up as an industry-designed voluntary national recycling program for thermostats that contain mercury. However, they have been less successful in collecting their products at end of life than Call2Recycle. These industry-sponsored national voluntary programs have often been successful in thwarting the passage of more stringent state-level mandatory EPR programs. PSI has always supported state EPR programs for all consumer batteries, rechargeables and one-time use batteries. | WA

In next month’s edition of HHW Corner we will conclude the interview with Scott Cassel.

David Nightingale, CHMM, S.C., is Principal at Special Waste Associates (Olympia, WA), a company that assists communities in developing or improving HHW and VSQG collection infrastructure and operations. They have visited more than 145 operating HHW collection facilities in North America. As a specialty consulting firm, Special Waste Associates works directly for program sponsors providing independent design review for new or upgrading facilities—from concept through final drawings to create safer, more efficient and cost-effective collection infrastructures. Special Waste Associates also published the book, HHW Collection Facility Design Guide. David can be reached at (360) 491-2190 or e-mail [email protected]

1. See PSI definitions at: What is product stewardship? – Product Stewardship Institute (PSI).
2. See example cost savings by product stewardship category at