Tuesday, March 31, 2009

California finally moving ahead with EPR

State legislation, if enacted, will finally hold product manufacturers accountable for wasteful, unnecessary packaging.

It has been an ongoing source of frustration to me that manufacturers can package their products as excessively as they want. Consumers can exert what pressure we can by making our purchases accordingly — but only to the extent that these choices are available through the selection at local stores.

I was writing back in 2002 about “Extended Producer Responsibility,” which holds corporations directly responsible for their products’ environmental impact (“The Big Stick Approach” by Joel Bleifus, In These Times, April 17, 2000, www.inthesetimes.com). EPR policies have been in place for years in Canadian provinces and the European Union.

The U.S. approach, in contrast, has been to hold manufacturers, retailers, consumers and waste management agencies “equally responsible” for products’ environmental impact (“What is Product Stewardship?” by the Environmental Protection Agency, www.epa.gov). The result, however, is that by purchasing a product, consumers become responsible for disposal of its packaging. Local governments face costly penalties if they fail to divert enough materials from California landfills.

The California Integrated Waste Management Board recently cited the City of Clearlake for failing to comply with a state-required 50-percent diversion rate for materials that are going to the landfill. The city could face civil penalties of up to $10,000 per day. See www.ciwmb.ca.gov/Agendas/ for information.

Watching our local governments — the two municipalities and the County of Lake — struggle to meet diversion mandates, it seemed a no-brainer to me that responsibility for disposal of packaging should be shifted to the producers that created it in the first place.

Thankfully, somebody else has been acting on this principle.

After being termed out of the California Senate, State Assemblymember Wesley Chesbro served in an appointed position on the California Integrated Waste Management Board (CIWMB), which voted in January 2008 to support an EPR Framework. Now in the elected office of California Assemblymember, Chesbro has introduced Assembly Bill 283, which uses these framework principles.

While products that are to be covered are yet to be determined, effective July 1, 2012, those products shall not be offered for sale or used for promotional purposes in California unless the its producer or a product stewardship organization of the covered product submits a product stewardship plan to the CIWMB.

AB 283 has the support of the California Product Stewardship Council, which is made up of local governments and other partners (www.CalPSC.org). Supporters believe that this framework legislation will streamline the process to include other products over time.

While waste diversion remains a valid goal, it is clearly not enough. CalPSC points out that even with new recycling programs, California still generates 40 millions tons of waste annually.

To follow AB 283 on its way through the California Legislature, visit www.legislature.ca.gov/.

You may also want to consider legislation identified as top priorities by Californians Against Waste (www.cawrecycles.org):

  • AB 479 (Chesbro) — Would set a statewide diversion goal of 75 percent and a local diversion goal of 60 percent. It would also require commercial recycling and increase the landfill tip fee to help fund local recycling programs.
  • Senate Bill 25 (Padilla) — Requires the California Integrated Waste Management Board to adopt policies, programs and incentives to increase statewide waste diversion to 75 percent.
  • AB 1358 (Hill) — Bans the use of expanded polystyrene food packaging and other non-recyclable plastic food packaging.
  • AB 68 (Brownley) and AB 87 (Davis) — Requires that consumers pay a 25-cent fee for single-use bags distributed at large grocery stores, pharmacies and convenience stores.

Published March 31, 2009 in the Lake County Record-Bee

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