Product stewardship in the U.S.—performance, successes and remaining challenges.
By David Nightingale, CHMM, S.C.
Over the past two decades, product stewardship initiatives have evolved and grown in the U.S. Last month’s column (Waste Advantage Magazine, March 2021) had the first half of our interview with Scott Cassel, the founder of the Product Stewardship Institute (PSI). Scott outlined how he was inspired to create PSI, defined how the terms product stewardship and extended producer responsibility (EPR) are used in the U.S., and the advantages of EPR programs. This month’s article features Scott outlining which type of product stewardship programs PSI favors, what kind of performance has been achieved with EPR programs and presents a challenging path forward for product stewardship programs in the U.S.
HHW Corner: Does PSI favor EPR programs over voluntary product stewardship programs?
Scott Cassel: Yes, hands down. PSI favors EPR programs because voluntary programs are not as effective when compared to mandatory programs. EPR programs have the advantages of a level playing field for all producers and other elements as we have already discussed. In addition, EPR also provides a framework for accountability to measure performance over time. Voluntary programs can lay the groundwork for EPR programs in the future. They can make a difference now and help build local capacity and experience with product stewardship programs, which is a critical goal of PSI. Therefore, PSI supports voluntary programs as a way to begin, but only in states that do not have the political will to pass EPR bills.
HHW Corner: Can you highlight some successes in U.S. EPR programs?
Scott Cassel: We have been working with Washington D.C. to have the first EPR law for all batteries, rechargeables and one-time use. This bill was recently signed by the Mayor and will provide a model for comprehensive EPR consumer battery legislation in other states.
Architectural paint EPR programs are now in place in 10 states plus the District of Columbia. The recovery rates are up to 75 percent in some states, hundreds of new jobs have been created, and local government collection programs, which used to bear the whole financial burden of paint collection and disposal programs, have saved millions of dollars per year. Figure 1, page 26, shows a summary of the cumulative benefits from paint ERP laws in the U.S.
The U.S. paint industry’s product stewardship program, run by PaintCare, is very similar from state to state due to the original vision of the national paint product stewardship initiative that PSI facilitated in the early 2000s. A history of U.S. paint ERP laws is shown on Figure 2.
HHW Corner: What are you most proud of regarding the many accomplishments of PSI?
Scott Cassel: Building the local capacity for EPR programs in the U.S. and the network to support and make change has been very satisfying for me. Another significant PSI contribution includes creating models and methods to develop EPR policy for any product. This flexible framework helps bring in different stakeholders and policies to develop robust EPR programs. Most of the 119 ERP laws passed in the U.S. for 14 product groups in 33 states have used those models and best practices. Finally, both the electronics and paint EPR programs have evolved from pilot projects, which PSI was involved in, to fully developed programs in many states across the U.S.
HHW Corner: What do you see as long-term goals for PSI?
Scott Cassel: I would like to see producer responsibility for consumer products and packaging as a fundamental principle at the federal level. Just as we have the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, FIFRA (for pesticides) and RCRA laws, there should be cornerstone national EPR laws for consumer products and packaging.
HHW Corner: How does PSI help various jurisdictions with product stewardship and how are you funded?
Scott Cassel: PSI is here to help support the various product stewardship options that are available to all levels of governments based on our research and continuing product stewardship work. You can see our work and resources at www.productstewardship.us. The Product Stewardship Institute is a nonprofit organization that takes donations from individuals, but we also have memberships for government agencies, partnerships for companies, organizations, universities and international governments, and we also provide technical consulting services under contract.
HHW Corner: What final words of advice do you have for those that are interested in pursuing product stewardship initiatives?
Scott Cassel: Two things: 1) all stakeholders have important and valid points of view, and 2) systems change over time. I’ll expand on each of these. First, producers, environmental groups, waste management firms, governments, and other stakeholders can add value in discussing how to design and operate the most efficient program. Existing investments in waste infrastructures by public and private entities need to be accounted for in this discussion. These are critical players that have to be able to feed the recovered materials back into the circular economy; their expertise and perspectives are irreplaceable. To illustrate how this can work, PSI recently published a report about how to stabilize and modernize the U.S. recycling economy through EPR policies.1
Second, regarding system change over time, you can look to Canada. They have been working with these EPR programs for longer than we have. As the Provincial governments have gained experience with their EPR programs, they have been transforming from the original municipal reimbursement system that relies on local government implementation, to allow the industry to take more management control as well as full financial responsibility. This transformation is seen as a next step in the evolution of EPR. They call this “full producer responsibility”. | WA
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@example.com. Feel free to contact him with thoughts on this column or ideas for future columns.
1. See PSI’s Extended Producer Responsibility for Packaging and Paper Products (productstewardship.us).