The final day of NERC’s Fall Virtual Conference wrapped up an excellent and informative three-day event, beginning with a conversation on managing lithium battery safety as well as EPR updates. Moderated by Michael Nork, Solid Waste Management Bureau, New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services, Mia Roethlein, Environmental Analyst at Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation started the conversation by discussing Vermont’s Battery Stewardship Law. Signed in 2014, with the first collection in 2016, it addresses the disposal of single-use and non-rechargable batteries, including lithium, alkaline and zinc batteries. The Battery Stewardship Law provides a plan for proper recycling and disposal of all primary batteries sold in the state. There are currently over 142 collection sites. Manufacturers are required to submit a 15,000 fee per plan to ANR, which should establish a collection program supported by manufacturers for all primary batteries. It must allow a retailer that sells batteries to serve as a collector for the program as well as any municipality who wants to participate in the collection, sorting and shipping. Outreach, packaging and transportation are provided by the manufacturer, while Call2Recycle is responsible for continuous outreach, collection site training and keeping an online site locator map. Social media, bus ads, NPR ads, online forums have also been communication focuses. Roethlein expressed that the program has been very successful, with an over 300 percent increase in primary batteries collected. She said the feedback from the public has been very positive, but she would like to focus mainly on safety and awareness moving forward.
Sean Plasse, Program Manager for Call2Recycle discussed managing lithium batteries, pointing out that as a result of COVID, everyone is working from home and there is no place to dispose of lithium batteries (from laptops), which historically have been collected by IT departments. You cannot just ship lithium batteries because they are considered hazardous waste (DDR: Damaged, Defective, Recalled). Not only have batteries been getting smaller and more powerful and can get lost in waste facilities creating a big hazard, there has been a 400 percent increase in lithium manufacturing capacity. Since that is the case, how can we protect facilities around the country? Plasse pointed out that there is a big push right now to get batteries out of the waste stream and there are several return solutions available to both consumers and organizations, including Cellsafe Battery Return Boxes, High Watt Hour Boxes, fire suppression material, CellBlockEX, Lithium-Ion Battery Incident Kits, CellBlock Drums for storage and transportation, and CellBlockEX. He concluded by talking about developing a lithium battery strategic plan, which includes a battery collection program, budgeting, facility layout, training, safety products, outreach and future proofing for the inevitable. He stressed that if you educate the consumers and facilities, they will start taking steps towards a better solution.
Following that session, the conference pivoted to state packaging EPR, moderated by Josh Kelly, Materials Management Section Chief for the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources. This discussion gave attendees a glimpse into a handful of state’s EPR strategies and possible legislation. Tom Metzner, Environmental Analyst for the Connecticut Department of Energy & Environmental Protection said that they are invested in EPR and tried to introduce EPR packaging a couple of years ago but did not make it very far, so they are trying it again with municipalities as its best advocates. Metzner explains that we have leaders who understand this issue, people who are in the early stages of learning and those who are just becoming aware. They are trying to help municipalities understand that they have options in an EPR program and can look at people who have done it before. States are getting weary of manufacturing positions and they want to be listened and paid attention to. There must be a working partnership to get bills passed—if you don’t do that there will be no movement. This includes educating municipalities, getting them the data they need, and understanding what they need to do to get EPR for packaging introduced.
Sarah Nichols, Sustainable Maine Director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine covered the Recycling Reform for Maine program. Currently, municipalities are still struggling and must choose between raises taxes or cutting recycling programs, that are costing them $16 to $17 million per year. Right now, there is a 36 percent recycling rate and falling. People in Maine are frustrated and upset with the closures and high costs. In addition to no funding for these programs, they don’t know packaging, and there are no records of where materials end up. She explained that EPR can provide a foundation to help with these problems. A new bill is being introduced in 2021 that will take existing infrastructures into account, while protecting small businesses. We need incentives in the system over time, investment in collection, and improvements in the system while looking at good environmental outcomes, not just cost, accountability, and identifying materials that are cause companies most harm. She pointed out that they need to know what is actually being recycled. Data is the unsung hero of EPR.
For Massachusetts, Kirstie Pecci, Director, Zero Waste Project for the Conservation Law Foundation, spoke about the need to get contamination out of the waste and recycling stream. There are two EPR packaging bills under consideration but there is a big difference in who manages and controls the material collection. The concern is do you want to hand over the keys to the producers now? In the Northeast, they don’t have great recycling definitions or laws, and we need a data point. If you give the power to municipalities, state governments and agencies, they are very strict as to what goes where with recycling. As we go forward, we can hand more power to the producers. She covered Bill H.750, which requires producers to directly reimburse towns and cities costs of collecting and disposal, and H745 that places program operation and development on producers. For both bills, they have learned a lot from what is going on in other places. For now, she said they are focusing on the next session, where producers fund the full costs of collecting, transporting and processing covered packaging materials, creating a strong advisory board, setting a list of materials for recycling, and creating strong performance targets within the statute. In addition, MASSDEP should have annual reporting, a schedule for assessing producer’s fees, and a program outline for infrastructure and education investment.
In New York recycling is at a crossroads, said Andrew Radin, Chair of the New York Product Stewardship Council. Current Assembly Bills include 9790 (Englebright), which excludes printed paper (mixed paper: newspapers, magazines, etc.), plastic packaging covered starting 2023, paper packaging cored stated 2026 (OCC, other fiber boxes). The current status of Senate Bill 7718 (Kaminsky)is that there is not much activity at the moment; it is still at the Senate Environmental Conservation Committee, but it is a legislative priority for 2021. Radin covered the unique challenges of the bill that included political and policy concerns, unique elements, including costs of residential collection, RF procurement and public education, and its next steps. He said there is a Broad Coalition urging Governor Cuomo to include EPR packaging in the 2021 Executive budget bill. He stressed the lessons learned, such as establishing a broad coalition (municipalities, environmental groups, private sector supporters, recycling/solid waste associations), and educating policy-makers and legislative aides.
Ann Battersby, Senior Environmental Scientist for the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management said there are currently EPR programs for Paint EPR operated by Paint Care, Mattress EPR by Mattress Recycling Council, where they run the collection program and set fee schedule, an e-waste program, and thermostat phase-out by the Thermostat Recycling Corporation. Two EPR Bills for Printed Paper and Packaging were introduced to General Assembly in the 2016 and 2017 sessions and did not pass. Some roadblocks were that there was little involvement from stakeholder groups, it was found to be very burdensome on businesses and RI Department of Environmental Management (RIDEM) at the time. However, the bills did serve as a conversation starter. RIDEM has supported legislation to prohibit stores from providing customers with single-use plastic bags for the last two years as well as plastic straws bans, and exploring other options for reducing plastics waste, such as banning polystyrene food containers. Battersby explained some of the roadblocks for future packaging EPR, such as 1) many states are enacting bills that incorporate plastic bag bans, straw bans and polystyrene, along with establishing commissions on using other mechanisms to study EPR options for packaging and other plastic waste, 2) learning from first packaging EPR bills, and the need for additional stakeholder involvement and research into EPR and 3) the fact that if a future packaging EPR bill came from outside stakeholder groups, the RIDEM would likely be very supportive of a bill.
Before the break, Lynn Rubinstein, Executive Director for NERC spoke about their NERC-APR Government Demand Recycling Champions Program. A free incentive program to increase government purchasing of products with post-consumer recycled resin, the goals are to stimulate and create domestic markets for recyclable plastics and drive sustainable products. With record low prices for virgin plastics, it has become financially challenging for end-markets to use PCR resin. Consequently, public demand for recycled content is essential to support the industry. The program was launched in late Spring and currently, the State of MD Department of General Services and the Hudson County Improvement Authority are Champions. The program drives change through government leadership. Rubinstein explained how to participate and advocate the program to members and constituents. Participants can include any non-federal public sector entity, including state agencies, departments, municipalities, counties, solid waste districts, etc. The program provides free technical assistance, support and training, a director of vendors and products, certificates of participation, recognition. Organizations can get started by signing a commitment letter, reporting annually, and receiving recognition.
In the Lightning Round of the Bottle Bills and Minimum Recycled Content Legislation, moderated by Terry Laibach, Section Supervisor for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, presented several states going over their bottle bills, where they stand and looking towards the future. Chris Nelson, Supervising Environmental Analyst for Connecticut Department of Energy & Environmental Protection explained that the state’s Bottle Bill was launched in 1980 and since then some things have changed, some have not. It covers collecting container types through retail stores and redemption centers, where they are returned to the state. He did point out that the redemption rate in Connecticut has been dropping and has been around 50 percent over the past few years. This is due to retails stores only being required to take back the brands they carry, the drop in the number of redemption centers, cross-border fraud, etc. Legislative proposals in recent years have included raising the fees from 5 to 10 cents, including wine and spirits, sports drinks and juices, increasing handling fees, and reinvesting in some of the escheats in the redemption system to help modernize it. Two bills proposed in 2020: 1) SB 11, which would require DEEP to submit recommendations for recycled content requirements for products sold in the state, and 2) HB296, which calls for collaboration with other New England states for the purpose of establishing a minimum recycled glass content for glass wine and liquor bottles.
Scott Wilson, Beverage Container Redemption Program, Maine Department of Environmental Protection, talked about redemption rates, and the timely topic of CBD and THC, which is legal in the state of Maine. They are starting to see a lot of CBD beverages. There are 380 redemption centers statewide, 38,000 registered labels, and the redemption rate is around 87 percent and they are trying to get it even more efficient, cutting down on costs.
Sean Sylver, Regional Planner for the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection talked about how their program worked and redemption rates, which are currently around 50 percent). This is because there has been less access, not enough incentives, sorting issues, manual labor shortages, etc. The challenges have been COVID (health and safety concerns, strained resources), the expanding beverage market, enforcement, etc. He explained that the next steps are legislative proposals, partnerships between stakeholders, and a 2030/2050 vision.
In New York, Bottle Bill laws have been around since 1983. Jennifer Kruman, Environmental Program Specialist 2 at the New York State Department of Environmental Conservationtalked about container deposits and the challenges of defining what is a “beverage”, enforcement language and Deposit Initiator Registration Compliance (craft beverages like beer). There are currently 1,400 redemption centers registered. When COVID hit at the end of March, they told stores that they would not use enforcement against stores that were unable to redeem, however, in early June stores were expected to be back in full compliance. The future of Bottle Bills includes updating regulations, an expansion to include other beverages, and in 2019 Governor Cuomo’s executive budget included expansion language (but it did not pass).
In Vermont, Bottle Bill return rates are about 74% (ranging from 68 to 81 quarterly). Cathy Jamieson, Solid Waste Program Manager for the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources points out they do have co-mingling by type. Handling fees are 3.5 cents per container, while non-comingled brands is 4 cents (there is legislation in the works to increase the fee to 5 cents). There are currently no laws on the books that require beverage containers to include recycled content, so in 2020 S.227 was introduced addressing recycling language but passed Senate only. She suggested that since Vermont has a small population, it would be more impactful to have a regional approach.
Finally, Marie Kruzan, Association of New Jersey Recyclers, spoke about the New Jersey Minimum Recycled Content Bill New Jersey S2515. It has been around for about 4 years and its sponsor is Senator Robert Smith. The Bill establishes the recycled content requirements for plastic containers, paper carryout bags, reusable carryout bags made of plastic film and plastic trash bags. It also prohibits the sale of polystyrene loose fill packaging. It also says that all manufacturers must register with the DEP and pay a fee that goes into a fund to pay for audits and enforcement. The DEP will adopt regulations to implement the law, can adjust standards through regulation, and can audit any manufacturer for compliance. Although the Bill was passed recently, it will go through major revisions before being finalized.
Wrapping up the day, Rubinstein talked about NERC’s Model Minimum Recycled Content Legislation for Plastic Film & Containers. In collaboration with NEWMOA, the key action areas are food scrap reduction, recovery and management as well as recyclables collection strategies impacts on manufacturing/end-users, EPR, increasing the use of recycled content in products and others. The committee consists of representatives from Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and Vermont. She spoke about the group’s process that included monthly calls between participants and subject experts and the goal to craft model legislation that states can consider as well as support and driver recycling markets.
Finally, Mary Ann Remolador, Assistant Director for NERC talked about their Model Minimum Recycled Content Legislation for Glass. Its goals are to better understand the recycling glass value chain and gaps in the region, promote diversion of glass containers to the highest value and uses, and develop markets for post-consumer glass. This includes glass beverages and food containers, fiberglass insulation, etc. She discussed the group’s process and what the ultimate deliverables would be, which is hoping to integrate with model plastic container model legislation under development. To find out more about these two groups or to get involved, visit NERC’s website at www.nerc.org.
Once again, NERC hosted an informative and dynamic conference, covering the issues that are important to the industry. I look forward to their Spring Conference to see how things have changed and listen to another great round of panelists and presenters. Please note, all Powerpoints and presentations will be available next week on the NERC website.