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April 2013

The Great Thing About Garbage


Drink containers, grocery bags, and other packaging accounts for almost a third of the U.S. solid waste stream, greater than any other type of trash, yet most packaging materials are recyclable.
What can create new American jobs while transforming our throw-away society into a greener, healthier, and more responsible one? One answer may be sitting on the curb.

“You create 10 jobs recycling and reusing these materials for new products for every one job produced pushing stuff into the ground or burning it,” says Bill Sheehan, executive director of the Product Policy Institute. “Tellus Institute estimates that 1.5 million jobs can be created by recycling 75 percent of our garbage rather than the 33 percent that we recycle now.”

One way to get to 75 percent is to hold the makers of products and packaging responsible for their collection, recycling, and reuse. Extended producer responsibility (EPR) policies have drastically reduced the amount of wasted garbage in the European Union, Canada, and Japan, and are proliferating here.

“You don’t need to tell companies how to get the job done, how many bins to put out and where, but you do need to tell them to get it done,” continues Sheehan. “How they achieve recycling and reuse is up to them. After all, it was Coca Cola and Pepsi that came up with the deposit on their glass bottles in the first place. Companies know how to push their product out; they can use that ingenuity to bring these materials back to the original producer.”

Nestle Waters North America, the corporation behind Deer Park, Poland Spring, and San Pellegrino, agrees. It has been a vocal supporter of laws to enforce corporate responsibility for packaging waste. A $100,000 grant to the Product Policy Institute will help the group work with Nestle Waters to get Coca Cola, Procter & Gamble, and other consumer packaged goods companies to support producer responsibility policy reform.

The Institute’s Make It, Take It campaign will develop model legislation, work with other groups to organize producer responsibility campaigns in seven states, pressure reluctant brands, and educate legislators.

“We’ve learned from prior successes that involving manufacturers is very effective in limiting toxic waste,” says Patricia Jenny, program director and acting vice president of programs at The Trust. “Our grant to the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition helped California pass the first-ever electronics recycling law in the country, while other grants helped pass producer responsibility laws in dozens of other states. Funding for the Lower East Side Ecology Center and Basel Action Network has also prevented thousands of tons of toxic and metal-rich electronic waste from entering landfills.”

Many consumer products and packaging are made with fossil fuels and then thrown out, creating miles-wide toxic trash islands in our oceans and adding to landfills. It’s time to stop throwing away $11 billion worth of materials every year and change the way we design, produce, consume, and dispose of products.

 


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