MSW Management May 2012 : Page 57

Blue Box,” into a new agenda, “The Road to Zero Waste.” This change was very well re-ceived by attendees last year. (Disclosure note: This author has been on the conference plan-ning committee for several years.) Is zero waste merely the vogue word of the day, or does the concept represent a true paradigm shift on how we will approach recycling and waste reduction in the future? This author doesn’t think either assumption is correct. Zero waste is a concept that had been around for quite a while before the term came into wide use. Just as the definition of recycling has evolved, there are precursors to this movement. Henry Ford is probably best known for his assembly-line method of mass production. Yet, he is certainly one of the forefathers of zero waste. He coauthored with Samuel Crowther a book called Today and Tomorrow (1926), which describes his attitude toward waste. “We treat each tree as wood until nothing remains which is serviceable as wood, and then we treat what remains as a chemical compound to be broken down into other chemical compounds, which we can use in our business ... We have a large salvage department, which apparently earns for us twenty or more million dollars a year.” However, he also remarked, “Why should we have so much to salvage? Are we not giv-ing more attention to reclaiming than to not wasting?” That simple self-analysis prompted him to develop many innovations in waste reduction. The concept of reducing waste and finding alternative disposal options has been around since the beginning of industry as a cost-reduction mechanism. Many governments are also taking a closer look at their waste disposal bills. Zero waste programs have a potentially high implementation cost as additional re-sources are devoted to collecting and segregat-ing an increasing number of materials. Yet, there is the potential for a long-term economic benefit. Although governments are not the producers of materials, they have historically been responsible for disposal of used materials. Take-Back Programs Producer take-back programs or extended producer responsibility (EPR) is a waste management strategy that assigns the pro-ducer of a product the responsibility for the product beyond the retail sale. This typi-cally involves the establishment of a program where consumers can return products, and the producer will be responsible for the dis-posal, through recycling, landfilling, or other appropriate means. The choice of the word producer has a specific intent in EPR, as opposed to the more common term of “manufacturer.” Producers are those who own a brand, license, or trade-mark of a product that is being distributed for sale. The producer is often the manufacturer. In such complex products as electronics, how-ever, there may be several manufacturers of different components. Assembly of these com-ponents may be performed by another com-pany. In this global economy, the manufacture and assembly may occur in several locations as well. These factors make it difficult to assign responsibility to a specific manufacturer, since many may be involved. Regardless of how many groups play a role in bringing a product to market, there is ultimately one entity who is responsible for the product: the producer. There have been some industry arguments that the producer of the waste is actually the consumer—that through the process of consumption the consumer has in turn pro-duced a waste product and therefore should be responsible for what happens to it. Product stewardship programs have sometimes been offered as a middle ground on the subject of who is ultimately responsible. Product stew-ardship advances the idea that those who touch a product, regardless of where in the life cycle of the product, have a shared responsibility to ensure that the product has a minimal negative impact on the environment. This involves the design, manufacture, packaging, transporta-tion, use, and ultimate disposal phase. This shared approach attempts to fairly distribute responsibility among all the affected parties. Unfortunately, since no one is specifically as-signed a responsibility, the catalyst to promote waste reduction and recycling is absent and nothing is usually accomplished. EPR programs offer a much more specific and simple premise. The producer of a product assumes the responsibility for managing the disposal of the product when it reaches its end life. This approach grants local governments financial and operational relief as they have a set disposal process in place. In theory, this will allow inventive manufacturers to develop products that have smaller environmental im-pacts than their current products. For example, in the United Kingdom, DuPont used to sell paint to automobile manufacturers, such as Ford. However, they made the change to selling a painting service instead. Although I haven’t seen any actual figures, I believe that simply changing the business model has resulted in less paint being wasted and therefore less paint needing to be disposed of. There are no national EPR programs in the United States, but several states have cre-ated their own product stewardship councils to research and possibly implement EPR legisla-tion. This includes New York, Vermont, Texas, California, and the Northwest (combined Or-egon and Washington). Resolutions in support of EPR programs have been adopted by the National League of Cities and the National Association of Counties. Canada has imple-mented several EPR programs that operate on a provincial level. Electronics and their frequent obsolescence has often been the driving force in attempt-ing passage of EPR legislation. Several manu-facturers have free take-back programs for their old electronics, including Apple, Dell, Lexmark, and Toshiba. Other manufactur-ers, Epson and Canon among them, charge a small fee to take back their electronics. Even when materials are not hazardous, there may be tremendous disposal costs associated with some products due to their sheer abundance. This author often wonders what the collective national disposal bill was for the estimated unsolicited 2 billion AOL compact and floppy discs that were distributed earlier this decade. EPR programs may be voluntary or man-dated by government legislation. Csll2Recycle is a well-known voluntary program in the US and Canada. This take-back program ac-cepts rechargeable batteries and cell phones at no charge. All program costs are covered by the Rechargeable Battery Corp. Manufacturers fund the program by paying a licensing fee to use Call2Recycle’s battery recycling seals on their products. Industry leaders are big supporters of vol-untary EPR programs. In September 2011, a new organization, the Product Management Alliance, was formed by several producers. Its purpose is to “support voluntary market-based extended producer responsibility efforts and voluntary incentives for increased recovery and sustainable product and package design. Its founding members represent the carpet, elec-tronics, toys, paper, packaging and transporta-tion materials, mattresses, plastics, personal goods, and pharmaceuticals industries.” Voluntary EPR programs do play a role in waste management. When dealing with prod-ucts that have a high residual value even past their normal life span, such as refillable ink cartridges or batteries, market forces will cre-ate a mechanism for extracting such financial gains. Even in the absence of formal indus-try take-back programs, local entrepreneurs, (some may call them scavengers) will collect the items for profit. Not all waste products are easy or cost effective to dispose of. For that rea-son, this author believes that mandatory EPR 57 [ www.mswmanagement.com ] MSW MANAGEMENT

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