David, Helen, Dan, et al -
Sometimes these debates are curious to me because the disagreements are over issues whose practical import is questionable. Local officials could encourage all kinds of development today using currently recovered resources if they simply had the imagination to do it. EPR may help with the persuasion or may not; it's a fresh take on the ideas. Rethinking production and industriousness is required. Local decision-makers need to get over the idea that we're in a post-industrial world where all economic activity is based on services and research. They can talk about the service economy, but real wealth, like real estate, will always be built on real material resources. The future's resources are now in use in today's material wealth.
After the issues of manufacturing to eliiminate toxins and reduce resource use, EPR appears to be a financial question of who pays the recycling bill. It isn't a technical question of whether the recycling needs to be done. We can embody materials conservation in manufactured products, but everything made will someday be discarded and will need a reuser or recycler to return it to economic use. As I understand EPR, it asks the manufacturer to take financial responsibility for this process, but not necessarily to do the work. The manufacturer will no doubt build the cost into the product's sale price; the consumer will then pay at the front end, and the recycler will somehow bill the producer.
If the manufacturer recycles its own products and nobody else does it, that would be vertical integration and monopoly recycling. I don't know who would object, unless environmentalists calculate there is an unnecessary burden of greenhouse gases generated by shipping products back to meet their very own maker. That cycle leaves the community with the least oversight over the products and could encourage generation-churning. If the manufacturer hires one or more recyclers who serve a range of manufacturers for a range of products and other commodities, the recyclers are vendors. If a recycler works for a community and handles the town's range of discards no matter what the commodity or who made the products, that's community recycling. They all do the same work.
Some community recyclers are funded by taxes, but financing methods that are better structured to encourage maximum recovery are based on services used - Pay As You Throw. In that kind of structure, the consumer also pays the bill, this time when the service is performed. Recyclers can charge less than wasting because their commodities are salable, whereas waste makers (even ones who sell electricity made by burning resources) end up with a long-term liability in garbage or ash or both. Then the materials need to be replaced with virgin resources. Wasting costs a lot more if it's priced accurately. Community recyclers could conceivably bill manufacturers for their work, if systems arise to permit intricate tracking.
We are all building a diversity of structures that can all work together. Effective vertical integration with monopoly recycling (for whatever products can manage it), vendor recycling, and community reuse and recycling all can work to prevent discards from being wasted.
Reuse and recycling are now and unquestionably always will be required to close the resource loop and turn discards back into resources, no matter whose cash register collects the fee.
If we do it right, there is no end to the resource pipe. But if we let profiteers burn the resources instead, then we're in trouble.
Helen, if you want to call in more cavalry, probably lots of recyclers would make themselves available. When Dan Knapp and I participated in the 1980s in killing off a passel of incinerators, we developed a method that worked every time: the one-two punch. Punch one: burning discarded resources is wasteful, expensive, and generates toxic air pollution, toxic ash, or both. Nobody in the world that I know of is better at explaining the details than Paul Connett and Annie Leonard. Punch two: no matter how their operations are financed, reusers and recyclers can use those same resources to grow what recycler Arthur Boone calls the back end of the GNP, creating jobs, businesses, and real wealth.
Good luck in Vancouver.
Mary Lou Van Deventer
Operations Manager, Urban Ore
President, Northern California Recycling Association
On Jun 20, 2008, at 10:02 PM, David Jaber wrote:
EPR-as-vertical integration means to me that a company sets up a system for their specific product at end-of-life (e.g. HP reclaims it's own toner cartridges for reuse). That doesn't sound like a bad thing, and I'm not seeing how it's a monopoly. Could you explain?
On Jun 20, 2008, at 3:31 PM, Helen Spiegelman wrote:
Hi Dan ~
I have the sense that we're closing a circle.
Brenda Platt asked a really insightful question at a meeting ten years ago or so. She asked what could be done to prevent EPR taking the form of vertical-integration. You can see the potential: producers set up captive companies to control the supply of their discards. We saw it with Lexmark in US. We see it today with Encorp Pacific here in BC.
A Canadian analyst in Ontario, Usman Valiante, has written about how EPR is giving rise to monopolistic/monopsonistic companies, which is arguably less healthy than the free market competition for discards. If you haven't read Usmans's stuff on used oil, tires, etc. I'll try to find weblinks.
What we're starting to work on here in BC, now that we have EPR legislation in place, is to find tools that local governments and others can use to encourage the emergence of companies in local communities that can provide creative responses to the opportunity offered by EPR. There's going to be an interesting session at the Recycling Council's conference next week on this topic. I'll be attending with Paul and I'll report back.
That's why it's so heart-breaking when elected officials listen to their staff, who are vested in wasting, rather than listening to local businesses who could grow the tax base by offering alternatives.
At 12:43 PM 6/20/2008, Dan Knapp wrote:
Thanks for the announcement, Helen:
Congratulations! This will be a wonderful test of the Product Policy Institute's overall theory of how to get to Zero Waste. Good luck to you as you try to slay the incinerator dragon(s) using EPR as your sword.
We recyclers beat our incinerator in 1982 by going to the voters with an initiative and the slogan "Give Recycling a Chance!" I know from Australian and New Zealand experience that parliamentary systems have nothing comparable to the voter initiative. Probably Canada is similar. It's too bad, because you can use the voter initiative to bypass elected officials and make law directly. We do it all the time here in California.
Even the threat of an initiative can make law. That's how Berkeley's zero waste ordinance was passed. A Zero Waste Initiative had been written and was getting ready for launch, but the Mayor and Council heard about it and passed it on the consent calendar at a regular City Council meeting.
On the other hand, you can pitch the issue as resource conservation versus resource destruction. We did that to great effect here, as our slogan implies, and we helped the public defeat at least 8 more incinerators in the Bay Area during the 1980's. Materials recovery enterprises led the fight against the incinerator in Berkeley; we said it was unfair competition for the discard supply that we wanted access to in order to grow our businesses. We said the huge upfront capital cost would force limits on us, and might even compel government to put us out of business so they could keep the incinerator going to pay off the financing.
Sure enough, when the voters said no to the incinerator option, all sorts of recycling businesses grew and proliferated and differentiated into an interlocking industry of niche operators that is currently very powerful and a major employer.
The Product Policy Institute's view of recycling as a subtle way to enable wasting might get you in logical trouble here.
In my humble opinion, after Annie and Paul depart you need to ask some experienced large-volume hands-on recyclers to come in and make the case that clean reuse, recycling, and composting is the conservative course for Vancouver to follow, not wasting by burning.
Urban Ore, Inc., a reuse and recycling business since 1980