Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Government Mandates vs. Private Sector Recycling: Carpet and Rug Institute's Jennifer Mendez

Government Mandates Vs. Private Sector Recycling Efforts: Carpet and Rug Institute’s Jennifer Mendez discusses the differences

In an article that appears in the November/December, 2010 edition of Inside ALEC, the professional journal of the American Legislative Exchange Council, Carpet and Rug Institute Director of Government Affairs Jennifer Mendez discusses the current situation and future outlook for extended producer responsibility legislation in states around the U.S.

According to its website, ALEC is a “nonpartisan public-private partnership of America's state legislators, members of the private sector, the federal government, and general public.” Jennifer is the current chair of ALEC’s Environmental Health & Regulation Subcommittee and is a member of ALEC’s Energy, Environment, and Agriculture Task Force. (see related blog posts Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR): Carpet & CARE and Carpet Industry, Extended Producer Responsibility, CRI Legislative Update)

In her article, titled, A Tax in Sheep’s Clothing - How Extended Producer Responsibility Mandates Can Hurt Consumers and Business [see page 12], Jennifer first explains that extended producer responsibility (EPR) legislation (sometimes called product stewardship or take-back programs) is an approach to environmental protection that calls on those in the product lifecycle—manufacturers, retailers, users, and disposers— to share responsibility for reducing the environmental impacts of products.

EPR legislation is currently being proposed in one form or another in several states, and the state of California, in its recent session of the state legislature, passed the nation’s first-ever EPR bill that is specific for carpet. The California law, called AB 2398, is aimed at increasing the landfill diversion and recycling of postconsumer carpet generated in California. Beginning July 1, 2011, carpet manufacturers will add an assessment of $0.05 per square yard on the purchase price of ALL carpet sold in California. Dealers and retailers must make this assessment visible on all invoices.

Jennifer Mendez: A Tax in Sheep’s Clothing - How Extended Producer Responsibility Mandates Can Hurt Consumers and Business
One significant aspect differentiating AB 2398 from other extended producer legislation is that the monies collected will not be awarded to the state, but will instead be used to incentivize the growth of diversion, recycling and markets for secondary products made from post-consumer carpet by rewarding the innovators and entrepreneurs who are finding sustainable solutions to the problem of carpet in landfills. In short, the money will stay in the private sector.

Keeping the responsibility for product end-of-life management in the hands of the private sector whenever possible is the main point Mendez makes in her article. She comments on several states that have either passed or are in the process of considering EPR “framework legislation”, broad-reaching, open-ended bills that signal the state’s intention to regulate more aggressively in the future.

“Government directed Framework Product Stewardship (PS) or EPR programs use a one-size fits all approach to extended producer responsibility by creating state government bureaucracies and mandated program elements… Broad ‘Framework EPR Programs’ as currently developed are open-ended, unclear, and most likely will increase state cost for management by state agencies, which in turn adds costs to the consumers and manufacturers. State agencies would bear the cost to study and prioritize products, review and approve plans and reports and to audit for compliance and enforcement. Consumers will pay more for products and manufacturers will be forced to finance government-mandated programs, and of course the cost of doing so will be passed on to the consumers who purchase the products.”

The article suggests that, as an alternative to legislative mandates, states encourage market-based solutions to product stewardship, especially for those products which don’t pose a toxic hazard to the environment. A number of industries, including the carpet industry, already have voluntary recycling programs in place (See related blog posts about the successful product stewardship efforts of the Carpet America Recovery Effort). The carpet industry is one of several environmentally proactive industries that have increased their recycling efforts, not because of mandates, but because it was the best choice from a business sense. Market-driven recycling programs are the most efficient means of collecting and reusing product materials at the end of those products’ useful life-cycles.

“In a struggling economy, [government mandated EPR programs] do not encourage product makers to locate, expand, or re-invest in any state or create jobs. Market-driven programs are the key to addressing end-of-life collection and job creation. From batteries to motor vehicles to carpet, these industry programs have served an essential role in providing sustainable solutions for concerns about waste.”

Thank you, Jennifer.



DHB said...

This is a very interesting article! I was unaware that California's carpet law was one of the only EPR laws in the country which kept all of the money generated in the private sector. I agree that the administrative fees imposed on manufacturers for many state EPR programs are burdensome and appear to create more confusion.

Otherwise, the main argument for these laws is that most industries simply are not doing nearly enough to reduce waste. While the carpet, battery, and auto industries have led the way with voluntary recovery programs, most other industries lag behind by far. The recovery rates we hear from government and private sector waste diversion programs for common product stewardship items (e-waste, mercury containing products, paint, packaging) are despicably low, usually less than 10%. It is well documented that local governments do not currently have the room in their budget to expand their hazardous waste collection systems. Certain leaders in industry have been cooperative in responding to a very dire need to reduce waste produced in the country. Others have been far more difficult. Basically, if all consumer product manufacturing companies were recycling even 50% of their products at end-of-life, we wouldn't need this aggressive legislation. For now however, it appears to be a necessary step as more and more states have adopted EPR laws in the last few years.

Product stewardship is no longer just about "hazardous" waste. There's just not enough space in our landfills for all the carpet, packaging, and phone books in the world either.

Bethany said...

You make some excellent points. CARE works hard to find products and uses for carpet after it has been reclaimed. That seems to be the real problem - collecting it is easy - finding uses for it afterwards that people will buy is hard.

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