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RE: [greenyes] Editorial: Holy Grail for Zero Waste is EPR

Congrats to Bill and Helen !! It is absolutely true that what sets Zero
Waste apart from "total recycling" is the EPR revolution that is slowly
building. We need to all start paying more attention to the "upstream" part
of ZW, namely the amount of wasted resources, the toxicity of the products
and the free ride that "the market" is getting.

Eric Lombardi

Executive Director

Eco-Cycle Inc


-----Original Message-----
From: Bill Sheehan [mailto:bill.sheehan@no.address]
Sent: Monday, August 22, 2005 12:03 PM
To: GreenYesL
Subject: [greenyes] Editorial: Holy Grail for Zero Waste is EPR

"The Holy Grail for Zero Waste proponents is extended producer
responsibility (EPR) . Fortunately, the Zero Waste argument has finally been
laid out cogently in a paper published by the Product Policy Institute"

Solid Waste & Recycling

June/July 2005


Zeroing in on Waste

By Guy Crittenden

Like drifting continents, a slow-motion collision of two opposing
philosophies about waste is currently underway in North America.
Understanding what's at stake is crucial for anyone in the waste management
and recycling business, which is being rattled by seismic shifts.

On one side is "integrated waste management" (IWM), an approach that seeks
to optimize the efficiency of waste diversion activities like composting and
recycling in coordination with disposal, which may include incineration
(preferably to co-generate power) and landfill (if only for ash). Dutch IWM
proponents recently made presentations to the City of Toronto about their
modern technologies and included waste-to-energy in their high "diversion"

IWM appeals to private sector and municipal waste managers who must cope
with the ever increasing flood of material that comes their way. IWM
proponents accept some flattening out the 3Rs hierarchy, since they don't
control the first two Rs: reduce and reuse. They have a job to do, right
now, and must answer to budget overseers or stock analysts, fluctuating
markets for recycled commodities, and limited or declining disposal
capacity. (Our cover story on page 8 expresses IWM concerns.)

The other side is Zero Waste, a movement that originated among
environmentalists and academic think tanks; its core idea is that what we
call "waste" is actually the inefficient allocation of resources and energy.
Even if incinerators were proven safe and landfill space was abundant (the
IWM wet dream), Zero Waste proponents would argue against them. We're
consuming and discarding more and more resources, they say, and our focus on
recycling and disposal systems (even new "gee whiz" technologies) is
actually making matters worse.

The Holy Grail for Zero Waste proponents is extended producer responsibility
(EPR) -- a term coined by a professor from Sweden where, ironically,
energy-from waste is popular. True EPR connects producers with the
downstream fate (and costs) of their products and packaging, and the price
signal creates a virtuous cycle: internalization of the full costs of
materials over their complete lifecycle drives eco-efficiencies up the value
chain, culminating in design for the environment.

The economic premise of EPR is fundamentally sound and surprisingly
consistent with free market ideas. Unfortunately, the best ideas from the
Zero Waste movement have sometimes been confused with woolly central
planning policies and the discredited command-and-control approach to
regulation, with which they have little in common.

Fortunately, the Zero Waste argument has finally been laid out cogently in a
paper published by the Product Policy Institute based in Athens, Georgia.
Authors Bill Sheehan -- former director of a Zero Waste coalition -- and
Helen Spiegelman (a board member of the respected British Columbia
environmental group SPEC) titled their paper "Unintended
EPR.pdf> Consequences: Municipal Solid Waste Management and the Throwaway

Sheehan and Spiegelman note that the municipal solid waste management system
was established a century ago to protect public health but evolved in such a
way that it provided an indirect subsidy to the "throwaway society,"
collecting (at taxpayer expense) all the detritus of the consumer culture
and making it "go away." Rather than proselytize ordinary people to recycle
more (an IWM habit), Sheehan and Spiegelman instead suggest that
corporations and consumers are behaving in a rational way. With no price
connection between production and disposal, it's predictable that industry
would shift over the past half century toward the manufacture of expedient,
disposable products, often made from non-renewable materials and energy. (A
disposable plastic razor is a good example, as is a "recyclable" plastic
soft-drink container.)

The authors state that if this subsidy ended (i.e., if municipalities
stopped collecting the stuff) the (seemingly) free ride for these materials
would stop and EPR would ensue.

The authors analyzed the U.S. EPA's extensive waste characterization data
over the 41-year period from 1960 to 2001 to compare patterns in the
generation, recovery and discards of product and non-product wastes (e.g.,
organics). They observe that the municipal waste management system "has been
least effective in reducing manufactured product wastes, and most successful
in managing certain community generated biowastes."

"The waste stream managed by local governments changed from one dominated by
coal ashes and relatively homogeneous food wastes a century ago, to one
dominated by product wastes today. Currently, product wastes comprise 75 per
cent of MSW by weight, and 89 per cent by volume," they write.

Sheehan and Spiegelman note that "Recovery of yard trimmings is the big
success story" and suggest that organics processing could remain a municipal
service. But they advocate EPR for product waste and note that the recycling
rate for many materials has plateaued.

I don't know how the collision of IWM and Zero Waste is going to unfold. It
may be that IWM is the best we can do for now and that implementation of
full EPR will be a task for the next generation. In any case, you owe it to
yourself to read this lucid paper.

Available at

Guy Crittenden is editor of this magazine. Email Guy at
<mailto:gcrittenden@no.address> gcrittenden@no.address

Bill Sheehan, Director
Product Policy Institute
P.O. Box 48433
Athens, GA 30604-8433 USA
Tel: 706-613-0710
Email: bill@no.address

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