I received an interesting and disturbing email from the Product Policy Institute’s Bill Sheehan about an article by Nestle CEO, Kim Jefferies — “Why It’s Time to Rethink Recycling in the US” — that was posted to greenbiz.com right before Christmas and has been widely circulated.
Sheehan writes, “Jefferies embraces a version of Extended Producer Responsibility that would do away with industry-managed beverage container deposit-refund laws and replace them with industry-managed, government-delivered curbside programs. Jefferies’ description of “EPR” as an alternative to deposit-refund systems is echoed in a recent report funded by Coca-Cola, noted below. It seems to be part of a coordinated beverage industry campaign to co-opt EPR rather than fixing bottle bills and making container deposits the cornerstone of EPR for packaging.”
I’ve pasted a few comments from greenbiz.com below the main article that highlight inaccuracies in Jefferies’ description of bottle bills.
You can read the article and all comments at: http://www.greenbiz.com/blog/2010/12/22/its-time-rethink-recycling#ixzz1AmOPg6G9
I’ve also assembeled things here in a logical order for ease of my readers. First the article and then the comments:
Why It’s Time to Rethink Recycling in the US
By Kim Jeffery (Created 2010-12-22 13:47)
Recycling reduces litter, conserves natural resources, saves energy and decreases emissions of greenhouse gases.
We recognize that for a beverage company like Nestle, it’s an important aspect of enjoying the health and taste benefits of our product for consumers to know that the bottle they are drinking from will be captured and re-used. It’s also important for all packaging and finished products to be captured and have a proper “home” at the end of life, either composted back to nature or collected for future re-use. Recycling is a cornerstone of a sustainable society.
At Nestlé Waters North America, we have a stated goal of achieving a 60 percent recycling rate for all PET plastic beverage containers in America by 2018 — not just our own packaging. In our efforts to identify workable solutions to reach that goal, we have to rethink the recycling challenge.
The Recycling Problem in the U.S.
Recycling in the United States has traditionally been a function of local governments and NGOs, leaving a patchwork of recycling mandates, incentives, funding formulas and programs in communities across the country. While recycling saves energy and provides environmental benefits, recycling rates, currently at 25-30 percent, are not improving significantly. Logistics costs are rising and government fiscal crises jeopardize the viability of programs.
Today, 10 states have traditional bottle bills. California has a variation on that theme. Bottle bills, however, aren’t the answer. The problem with bottle bills is they create an enormous government bureaucracy, do only a reasonable job of diverting a very small portion of the waste stream — beverage containers — from landfills and do nothing to build curbside, public space and commercial recycling infrastructure. Bottle bills also lack consistent public education about the importance of recycling.
Even more importantly, perhaps, is that bottle bill-style recycling is not expandable to other packaging, paper or compostable waste because these mandates rely on getting all of the “empties” back to the store. Our food stores do not have the physical space to play this role, nor should our food stores be the place we bring our garbage.
Further, bottle bills do nothing to address infrastructure for paper recycling, which accounts for 40 percent of landfill waste, only reinforcing that bottle bills are not solving the need for broader recycling solutions.
What is even more unfortunate about government-run bottle deposit jurisdictions is they break a basic trust with the consumer and the beverage industry, who have paid an environmental tax, but are not receiving the full environmental benefit. The handling fees paid by industry and the unredeemed deposits paid by consumers do not go toward enhancing a state’s environmental infrastructure. Instead, they typically go into general revenues, only to be used who knows where. We have to do better than this — and we can.
Extended Producer Responsibility: A Solution That Can Work
We propose a version of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) where the industry takes sole responsibility for its packaging and, in partnership with its consumers and governments, operates an industry-led, nonprofit organization across a given state. In return for a nominal fee paid by the consumer for every consumer packaged good purchased, this model invests all monies received into building best-in-class municipal curbside recycling, public spaces and commercial recycling, and public education programs.
Typically with EPR models, each consumer product goods industry sector would create its own stewardship organization and/or work with other sectors to do so. It would also work with its retail partners and its consumers to collect the fee, then with municipalities or private recyclers across a given state to build and/or enhance their curbside, public spaces and commercial recycling programs.
The Canadian province of Manitoba has this system already in place. It is known as the “hybrid recycling model” or “Manitoba model.” This industry-led organization is subsidizing municipal curbside recycling programs 80/20 and is funding the entire cost of establishing public and commercial recycling programs, as well as creating public education and mass communications initiatives. Manitoba intends to divert 75 percent of its containers from landfills in the next three years.
The Business Case for Extended Producer Responsibility
EPR benefits both businesses and consumers because it lowers costs and helps motivate businesses to get creative and find ways to responsibly manage products through their full lifecycle, including reducing waste and operating costs. Further, the materials and resources used in today’s products are valuable, and with an expandable EPR approach that allows for the collection of all reusable waste, more can be recaptured to ensure businesses have materials for new products tomorrow.
America needs to band together now to address the recycling issue. To do so effectively, we need robust curbside recycling programs for homes and industry, readily accessible recycling in public areas where people consume beverages, and ongoing public education to ensure consumers feel good about doing their part.
We’ve seen the potential power of EPR, and we are bullish on its prospects for recycling in the United States.
Peter Spendelow, Oregon Department of Environmental Quality — December 23, 2010 – 15:41
It is unfortunate that Mr. Jeffrey states that “the problem with bottle bills is they create an enormous government bureaucracy,” because that certainly is not the case here in Oregon. Oregon was the first state to pass a bottle bill (in 1971) and the bill has been enormously successful since then. Yet there is no employee of the State of Oregon whose main job is to administer the bottle bill. In my work for the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality as a solid waste policy analyst since 1985, less than 5% of my time has been spent on bottle bill issues, yet I am the person who has done the most work on these issues for the State of Oregon. In fact, the bulk of implementation of the Oregon Bottle Bill is done by an industry group – the very capable Oregon Beverage Recycling Cooperative (OBRC). OBRC is a cooperative representing almost all of the distributors and beverage companies operating in Oregon, including Nestle. An industry group taking care to make sure that beverage containers get recycled – that is really what extended producer responsibility is all about, and that is what the industry cooperative OBRC does in Oregon under the auspices of the bottle bill.
Mr. Jeffrey also stated that bottle bills do nothing to address the paper recycling infrastructure. Actually, indirectly they do, by making the recycled paper supply much cleaner. In states without bottle bills, much of the curbside recycling is collected commingled, which means that all those glass and plastic containers are mixed in with the paper. Broken glass is a major contaminant in the paper, costing our paper mills millions of dollars in damage to equipment and forcing them to install additional cleaning technology. Much of the glass collected in those curbside programs also ends up being too contaminated and broken to be used to make new glass containers, and so it ends up being used as landfill cover or fill. In contrast, most of the glass collected in Oregon is collected under our bottle bill, and that glass goes back to a glass plant to be made into new bottles. Our paper recycling industry is thankful that we have a bottle bill in Oregon that helps keep all those bottles and cans out of their recycled paper. This may be one reason why Oregon has always been a leading state in curbside and other forms of recycling, as well as the first state with a bottle bill.
Stephen M Bantillo, Former Director of California’s Beverage Container Deposit Program — December 28, 2010 – 15:40
Mr. Jeffery stated on NPR a couple years ago, “”Everybody that sells a plastic container that’s recyclable should have some deposit on it if we’re going to do this thing the right way.” It appears somewhat disingenuous now for Mr. Jeffery to flog beverage container deposit programs where consumers have their deposit refunded if they recycle, and instead promote an industry-designed system of Producer Responsibility that assesses a fee on the consumer to pay for government systems. Mr. Jeffery also states that the government bureaucracy only does “a reasonable job of diverting a very small portion of the waste stream”, yet he wants to implement a system funded by the consumer that achieves a lower recycling rate than the average of the 11 bottle deposit states. In fact, the beverage container recycling rates in bottle deposit states are two to three times higher than the national average! And Mr. Jeffery wants us to Rethink Recycling? Hmmm…
Laura Haight, NYPIRG, December 23, 2010 – 14:58
My jaw dropped when I came to the line “The problem with bottle bills is they create an enormous government bureaucracy”. Here in NY we have less than one fulltime staff person in the DEC overseeing the program; is this what Nestle’s calls “enormous?” With an average return rate of over 70% and more than 6 billion bottles and cans recycled each year in NY alone, the bottle bill is a great example of how effective EPR can be — all at virtually no cost to taxpayers. The states with the highest recycling rates have both curbside recycling programs AND bottle bills. We have ample documentation in NY on how deposits reduce litter – something curbside programs are not designed for or effective at. If Nestle’s is trying to project an image of being an environmentally responsible company, this article fails dismally.
Bill Shireman, Future500, January 3, 2011 – 06:08
I agree – bottle bills actually create tiny bureaucracies. It’s one of their best features. California is the only exception, and that’s because the savings under that model – due to the central fund – can be used for other purposes. The recent abuses by the states of CA, NY, and CT make a good case for a third-party fund.
It would be nice to see some fresh thinking on the pro-deposit side. It would sure make life easier for those of us sincerely working to find solutions that can bring the two sides together. It’s comforting to assume there’s no possibility of a genuinely better approach, and just keep losing, but it’s better to win.
Ben C — December 23, 2010 – 08:07
Rethink bottled water…. This is all an effort to pass the buck on to the consumer. Now waiting for Keep America Beautiful to sign on. It’s not time for Extended Producer Responsibility, it’s time for FULL producer responsibility. How about being fully responsible for litter clean up, fully responsible for the pollution of making your products, fully responsible for the health impacts of your products on consumers and communities where your products are made. Interesting to note that Nestle’s consultant and likely ghostwriter of this simplistic and self-serving piece is likely, Bill Shireman, the father of California’s highly successful bottle bill. Also, Natural Logic… how about disclosing your client in this effort to kill bottle bills is Coke?
Gil Friend, Natural Logic — December 24, 2010 – 14:37
I hope the people who reference the Natural Logic’s EPR white paper have actually read it. (http://www.natlogic.com/EPR) It doesn’t oppose bottle deposit policies (which several commenters have correctly called “the first EPR”). It does propose extending the effectiveness of well-designed financial mechanisms to a more comprehensive materials management solution.
Bottle bills work — for bottles. Deposits on computers, tires, car batteries, etc work — for those commodities. But though recovery rates are high, these are a small fraction of the waste stream; the challenge we face is to reduce, reuse, recover and recycle _most_ of that waste stream, not just subsets. EPR can put the responsibility for effective recovery and recycling of materials that will become “waste” on the producer (or first importer) of those materials. That financial responsibility can provide: financial incentive to producers to redesign products and packaging to be less resource intensive, less toxic and more recyclable; financial incentives to support or create effective end-of-life recycling; and financial relief to local government that bear much of that burden today.
The good news is that there’s momentum for EPR around the country. Here in California, CalRecycle “seeks a comprehensive approach for advancing EPR” and its predecessor, the California Integrated Waste Management Board, “adopted a set of Strategic Directives that included Strategic Directive 5: Producer Responsibility: This policy directs staff to seek statutory authority to foster “cradle-to-cradle” producer responsibility and develop producer-financed and producer-managed systems for product discards. Numerous local governments in California have demonstrated their support by adopting producer responsibility resolutions (hosted by the California Product Stewardship Council).” But it can’t succeed fast enough if it proceeds only product by product. We need “framework” legislation that greatly broadens the reach of the Extended Producer Responsibility / Product Steward approach.
To Sara Ost and Ben C’s comments on putting the costs on the consumers: We disagree with Mr Jeffery’s suggestion that consumers pay fees associated with their purchases, and tend to favor having producers pay fees associated with their production. There are arguments for both approaches, and we have not yet done the modeling to assess their relative merits. But it’s not a simple either/or. If the fees are borne by producers, they may choose to pass costs on to consumers; on the other hand, producers that do a good job of lightening their footprints would pay less, and thus gain a market advantage. (By the way, to Ben C’s call for “full” not “extended” producer responsibility, we completely agree; we just used the currently familiar term.)
There are many questions to be resolved — some of them technically or logistically difficult, and some which require challenges to long-held and comfortable habits. But that’s how innovation happens, and that’s the kind of dialog we hoped to contribute to in producing our White Paper.
Yes, our work was conducted under contract to Coca-Cola — and we made clear at the start that while our brains are for hire, our integrity and opinions are never for sale. We listened to Coke, to the stakeholders who participated in our Innovation Charrette, and various other reviewers. We took all their perspectives into account, and we drew our own conclusions (as we do in all out efforts to help companies and communities design, implement and measure profitable, effective sustainability strategies). And we made the recommendations that we thought best. We look forward to further exploration, and we’re happy to participate in any forum in which our perspective and experience might be helpful.
Tex Corley, Strategic Materials — December 24, 2010 – 06:26
Mr. Jeffery points in the right direction?
Years ago Jeffery said Deposits were the answer. The Natural Logic Paper was paid for by the Beverage industry to support their position against deposits. Deposits — the first EPR — work — period.
So you think throwing everything into one bucket then crushing the heck out of it is the answer? The question must be — How do you make junk? Talk to the companies that, either use or process that junk — they all know Single Stream is the problem, not the answer. Can single stream get better? Maybe, but once the egg is scrambled it is very difficult and costly to unscramble it.