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[GreenYes] EPR and sustaining local recycling

Hello GreenYes friends,
I would like to summarize the Product Policy Institute's position supporting Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR), our reasons for using federal and state data and conventional terminology, and our rationale for focusing on "municipal solid waste," as we have done in our position papers. I hope that this summary will dispel any suggestion that PPI's work is in conflict with that of Urban Ore or other community based recycling businesses. Rather, we see PPI's work and Urban Ore's as complementary and mutually supporting.
PPI and the California Product Stewardship Council (CPSC) use data and terminology developed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the California Integrated Waste Management Board. The terms "municipal waste," "waste generation" and "waste production" as well as "disposal" and "discards" as defined by EPA and the Board are in common use in the recycling and solid waste professions. New terminology proposed by Urban Ore ("discard supply" and "wasting") captures normative values of conservation that PPI shares with Urban Ore unreservedly. PPI has simply chosen to use standard, generally accepted terminology in developing arguments in support of policies that are consistent with those values.
The focus of both PPI's and CPSC's work is municipal solid waste (MSW), that is, discarded items for which local governments have legal responsibility to ensure "proper" management.  In EPA and CIWMB usage, MSW comprises materials that are typically generated by the residential, industrial, institutional and light industrial sectors in local communities. PPI has chosen to focus our efforts on MSW - and not other discard streams including construction and demolition materials from the "built environment" -- because our focus is finding ways to reverse the staggering growth in consumption of short-lived products and packaging in our society. EPA data show that nearly three-quarters of municipal waste is products and packaging.
We trace the origin of today's waste problem to Progressive Era reforms at the beginning of the 20th Century that made refuse collection and disposal a core function of local government.  This shift displaced a robust industry of independent recyclers who made their living from directing useful items back into commerce through well-established commercial arrangements. Municipal governments and contracted waste haulers came to dominate a new industry whose mission was to "dispose" of municipal refuse as conveniently and cheaply as possible, mainly through landfilling and incineration.
Our discards evolved to fit the niche we had created for them. Consumer goods were designed to be cheaper to replace than repair. The quantity of manufactured products and packaging in municipal waste grew from less than 100 pounds to over 1200 pounds per person per year during the last century. At the same time, products and packaging became more complex, more highly engineered, more likely to contain substances that posed waste management risks in conventional disposal facilities. But still there was the expectation that local governments would find disposal solutions.
The intent of EPR is to reduce wasteful production and consumption and enhance recycling. By creating a link of responsibility between producers and the downstream impacts of their products, so producers can no longer ignore the impacts of their design decisions at the end of the product's life, product design and marketing will support recycling.
Early EPR programs are already delivering promising results in recovering, reusing and recycling targeted products. As more products become subject to EPR, we will see better product design and also a burgeoning demand for innovative EPR-driven recycling services in local communities wherever products are sold. Local enterprises like Urban Ore will play a critical role in the future materials management economy under EPR. As soon as EPR laws and regulations require producers to reuse or recycle their products, producers will need to seek the services of businesses like Urban Ore to get the job done. As in other parts of the product supply chain, reuse entrepreneurs will be agents of innovation, offering brand-owners better and better ways to minimize cost and maximize profits, all the while adhering to standards set by government, with public support, to protect the commons. 
The focus until now has been on state-level legislation, but over time EPR will also give rise to a broad suite of municipal product policy instruments in areas like land-use planning, zoning, business licensing, as well as development and building regulation. These municipal powers, along with state-level EPR mandates, will give local governments tools they need to make recycling and reuse economically sustainable and create green jobs in the community.  Doing so will enhance the prosperity and resilience of local communities in the uncertain times ahead when Peak Oil may disrupt long distance transport of goods. Urban Ore's vision of discard malls can become a reality when EPR builds ever and ever greater opportunities for recycling and reuse.
Helen Spiegelman
Product Policy Institute

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