Trade Associations Dig in their Heels at EPR for Packaging Hearings
By Jamie Rhodes, Program Director
Another legislative session has begun, bringing with it the unending possibility of new policies in states across the country. For the fourth year running, Rhode Island, as part of an evaluation of its existing recycling collection and sorting system, has proposed an Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) program for packaging materials. The conversation will be different in each state, yet there are a number of lessons to pull from the hearings and stakeholder engagement in Lil’ Rhody that are informative for readers across the country.
During the March public hearings, local players – including the hospitality association, local companies, state agencies, and local government – made clear that while the current draft does not meet their needs, there is an opportunity to work together. Following the hearings, UPSTREAM and our state partners are continuing to engage these individuals to clarify core interests and amend the legislative proposal through careful and thoughtful compromise.
The national trade associations, however, are digging in their heels. Whether it is the National Waste and Recycling Association, Product Management Alliance, or the American Forestry and Paper Association, there continues to be little effort, if any, to find common ground. Not only did they clearly oppose the proposed legislation, they made wild claims that EPR would lead to irreparable harm to consumers, business and every other aspect of the consumer goods market chain. This ongoing stubborn opposition is truly disappointing, given that an increasing number of companies that these associations represent have indicated their support for the concept, though not specific legislation, in the United States and around the world.
It is now abundantly clear that the industry trade associations – whose member companies are responsible for generating the packaging waste – are unequivocally opposed to being part of the solution to our collective problem. Regardless of the increasing costs to municipalities – who desire to work cooperatively with business – and the growing recognition of the impact of plastics on the health of our oceans, these industries are maintaining their adamant opposition to EPR as a policy, despite their ongoing embrace in both Canada and Europe. The United States continues to be the outlier when it comes to international action around EPR. With the exception of container-deposit laws (bottle bills), the United States is the only country out of thirty-four member nations to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) – widely seen as representing “developed nations” – that does not have EPR for packaging programs established. OECD cites EPR as being “increasingly recognized worldwide as an efficient waste management policy to help improve recycling and reduce landfilling of products and materials.”
This uncompromising position leaves advocates and local governments in a difficult position. We can continue to push for a proven policy concept that would incorporate industry participation in solving a shared problem, but it seems unlikely for it to work while these industry trade associations refuse to be a partner in crafting the policy. The opposition has even devolved to seeding misinformation and making claims contrary to all available evidence. In one of the recent hearings, a legislator had to call out the Product Management Alliance for making unsubstantiated claims that EPR policies don’t actually increase recycling rates. While critical of some elements of EPR policy, the report they cited made no such claim. Sadly, much to my dismay, every year that the detractors ossify in their position.
Without a concerted effort by industry to work on EPR legislation, packaging taxes are likely on the horizon. Rhode Island has already instituted one, but has allowed the money to be subsumed by other programs. A focused effort to revitalize the purpose of the litter and beverage tax, coupled with a need to expand it to include problem material, is the alternative available for state and local governments where brand owners refuse partnership. So long as the position remains that it is the responsibility of state and local governments to clean up the mess that low-value, and difficult to collect packaging poses to the budgets of local governments and to environmental health, there is every reason for states to fund necessary infrastructure and litter collection systems through targeted and meaningful taxation of those who refuse to be part of the solution.
For those who are interested in watching one of the most recent hearings, in the House Committee on Environment and Natural Resources on March 24th, it is available at the Rhode Island General Assembly’s website here. The bill begins at 54:30 in the video. Or, to just watch UPSTREAM’s testimony, click here.
State Packaging Policy Work
In Rhode Island, legislation has been introduced and heard in both the House and Senate, as described above. Municipal governments will be a focal point for future stakeholder engagement. With the help of our campaign partner Clean Water Action, meetings have happened in more than a half dozen cities and towns that have expressed enthusiasm for the adoption of the policy. There will be an on-going effort to educate and mobilize these entities to advocate for implementation of the policy.
In Connecticut, initial legislation has been introduced to task the CT Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) with the development of an EPR for packaging program. UPSTREAM Program Director, Jamie Rhodes, has been invited to present at a May DEEP meeting to discuss program structure and present on the national picture of packaging legislative efforts. Local governments have been engaged to work with their counterparts in Rhode Island to understand and learn lessons from those local governments in British Columbia that have already undergone a program shift.
Plastic Pollution Policy Project (P4) Phase II Takes Shape
At the 2015 strategy meeting, all of the NGO participants expressed an interest in aligning and collaborating at a higher level across North America. Since then, we’ve convened a series of conversations with partners and key leaders around the following strategic question: What can we uniquely do in North America that will drive change on a systems scale and complement, accelerate, or influence other initiatives to solve plastic pollution?
During these conversations, participants expressed the need to use networked approaches to address the scale of the problem. Our conversations also identified several high-leverage projects that can effectively complement the emerging international initiatives, while supporting the development of a stronger North American network on plastic pollution.
EPR for Furniture
From April 11-13, Jamie will be attending the Green Science Policy Institute’s symposium in Berkeley, CA. The primary goal of this conference, for UPSTREAM, will be to highlight the value and importance of incorporating EPR policy as part of the larger matrix of policy efforts designed to end the use of toxic chemicals in furniture, while creating the mechanisms and incentives to retire existing toxic furniture safely.
- UPSTREAM contributes to International Plastic Pollution Stakeholders Meeting: On March 8th, UPSTREAM’s Executive Director, Matt Prindiville, travelled to Washington DC to participate in an international Plastic Pollution Stakeholders Meeting facilitated by the Oak Foundation and Global Environment Facility.
- UPSTREAM’s Packaging Legislation heard in Rhode Island: UPSTREAM’s Packaging Legislation was heard in committee in the Rhode Island General Assembly: in the House Committee on Environment and Natural Resources on March 24th and in the Senate Committee on Environment and Agriculture on March 30th. (UPSTREAM’s testimony is available here).
- UPSTREAM Presents at Green Science Policy Forum on Flame Retardants in Furniture: From April 11-14, Jamie is in Berkeley, California, attending the Green Science Policy Institute’s symposium.
In the News
- Pacific Standard: 1/5/2016 – Matt was quoted by Elizabeth Royte of Pacific Standard in the article “Consumers Love Squeezable Plastic Pouches – Too Bad Recyclers Hate Them”
- Daily News: 2/20/2016 – Matt was quoted by Daniel McDonald of Daily News in the article“We’re recycling way too much and it isn’t benefitting the economy or the environment – here’s how design can help”
- Fusion: 3/2/2016 – Bill Sheehan was quoted by Cole Rosengren of Fusion in the article“Wasting Away: Litter bug: The radical repackaging required to go to zero waste”
- Resource Recycling: 3/22/2016 – Matt and Jamie were quoted by Bobby Elliott of Resource Recycling in the article “Rhode Island bill would make brands pay for recycling,” which led to a number of other mentions in the trade press.
Meet Christina Morra, UPSTREAM’s New Communications and Program Coordinator
First, can you give us a bit of background on yourself?
I’m a native of Providence, Rhode Island with a deep love of my home state. My background is in communications, fundraising, campaign organizing, and project management, and I have experience with political- and issues-based campaigns. I received a BS in Public Administration and a Certificate in Municipal Management from Roger Williams University in Bristol, RI, and have taken graduate courses in Public Policy, Environmental Policy, and Environmental Law.
I like addressing social problems through policy, recently advocating for two electoral reform bills that passed in Rhode Island in 2013. My current policy side project is to repeal the so-called “Tampon Tax,” and I am a fellow of the 2016 Women’s Policy Institute run by the Women’s Fund of Rhode Island. I also serve as Chair of my local Sierra Club chapter.
What’s something that no one would guess about you?
I was a competitive fencer in high school and college, and have been the coach of the fencing team at the University of Rhode Island for the past decade. I also converted a 1985 Mercedes (diesel) to run on waste vegetable oil and drove it from Rhode Island to the late Paolo Soleri’s Arcosanti in Arizona (fueling up at restaurants along the way) to spend a summer learning about urban sprawl alternatives.
How did you first get involved with UPSTREAM?
For many years, I had been familiar with our Program Director, Jamie Rhodes, through his involvement with Ocean State Action, Clean Water Action, and Planned Parenthood, but somehow we had never actually worked together. Rhode Island is not a huge community, so this was rather surprising. A mutual friend put us in touch a couple of months ago, and we had an extremely productive lunch meeting where we learned that we had a lot of mutual professional interests. A few weeks later, Jamie let me know that UPSTREAM was looking to expand its work and asked if I was interested. This has been a perfect fit, and I am really excited to see what we will achieve as an organization.
What plans do you have for UPSTREAM’s work?
As Communications Coordinator, I want to understand and improve our messaging goals and strategies. I plan to find the best ways to express our ideas and communicate our accomplishments while connecting with a larger audience.
How will you measure success for UPSTREAM?
While we are an organization that often works to create change though policy, numbers of bills passed is a very incomplete metric for measuring success. In many cases, one single victory represents years of successful organizing, education, and communication. Therefore, it is important to also look at progress made in other ways: connections formed, allies gained, and practices changed for the better. Additionally, our measure of success in our communication efforts will not simply be by quantity, but by the quality, impact, and reach of our message.
How do you plan to build on the past achievements that UPSTREAM has had in bringing EPR and product stewardship policies to the United States?
As an organization, UPSTREAM has the chance to communicate with different audiences: law makers, activists, the public, industry, and more – giving us the opportunity to influence, inform, and engage. However, until we have more governments and advocates pushing for policies like EPR, there is still an audience to reach – and I intend to reach them.
From an environmental perspective, what keeps you up at night and how can UPSTREAM’s programs make a difference?
So many things!
I think a lot about consumption, both of materials and energy, and the impact that has on the health of our planet and the lives of its people, animals, and plants. I think about what motivates people to change their behaviors, and why there has not been more change in the face of overwhelming evidence of our collective impacts. Mostly, I spend a lot of time thinking about waste, how we create it, how we can generate less of it, and how best to deal with it. This is one of the many reasons that I am so excited to be at UPSTREAM. I believe that UPSTREAM’s programs and policy initiatives are important and effective ways to make a difference, and that they facilitate necessary collaboration between producers and consumers, along with the governments that oversee them both.