Sharing costly disposals

Getting manufacturers to help dispose of what they produce



Colorado legislators have repeatedly failed to pass legislation for product stewardship, which requires manufacturers to share the costs of disposing of products they create. Almost half of U.S.

states have similar laws. And at the Colorado Association for Recycling conference June 5-7, movement supporters decided to push for it again this year.

“Product stewardship, in reallocating financial responsibility, helps to put a message back up the product development chain that can effect changes in products to make them more recyclable or less toxic or less packaged or easier to dispose of,” says Hilary Collins, chair of Colorado’s Product Stewardship Council and assistant manager of the Resource Conservation Division of Boulder County.

Movements tend to focus on products that are tough to recycle or not being recycled, like electronics, carpet, household waste, packaging or needles.

The idea is often not to eliminate county programs that deal with these items, but to get the producers to help pay for the costs of disposal through those programs.

“It’s more of a shared responsibility for end of life management with the major responsibility for financing it coming from manufacturers,” Collins says. “Consumers have a part to play. Local governments have a part to play.”

But manufacturers are the ones with the power to change products, and stewardship gives them a financial incentive to make products easier to manage when they’re no longer being used.

“We want these products to be properly managed. We don’t want them to just go in a landfill,” Collins says.

But without support from the manufacturers, public dollars are paying for the disposal of products that manufacturers and retailers made profits on.

Two bills were introduced in the state legislature this year, one on disposal of sharps, or needles, and one on electronics. Neither bill passed.

The sharps bill, Collins says, was promoted by waste management as a way of protecting their employees, who get stuck by potentially contaminated needles when they’re disposed of improperly, and when the containers used for disposal are crushed in trash compaction trucks or run through a recycling plant.

“It’s an expensive and stressing process for the person, because you don’t know what the puncture wound might be infected with,” Collins said.

“There are 24 states now that have a product stewardship electronics take-back program, meaning the manufacturer is at least in some regard responsible for participating in the recycling of their products at the end of their life,” says Dan Matsch, manager for the Center for Hard to Recycle Materials (CHaRM) at Eco-Cycle.

At the Center for Hard to Recycle Materials, a computer drop-off costs about $18, he says. The consumer pays that cost.

The proposed law for Colorado, which Matsch says has been watered down over the years, was basically an effort to monitor how much manufacturers were collecting in electronics to be recycled. The law asked manufacturers to show they had collected two pounds per capita. Well-established programs in other states collect as much as five pounds per capita.

“Almost all the major manufacturers have voluntary take-back programs,” he says. “But we don’t know how much they’re collecting, how much electronics are going into the landfill, so we’re kind of groping around in the dark.”

The bill passed the state Senate, but not the House of Representatives. Legislators rejected the bill, Matsch says, after it lost the support of manufacturers.

But the mood at the Colorado recycling conference was that it would be worth trying again, Matsch says.

“It’s understood that it’s a multi-year project,” he says.

The goal is to have recycling programs, even on tough-to-recycle items, be free or at a low cost for consumers.

“Hopefully, Colorado’s going to be one of the next states to have some action on this,” Collins says. “Then, hopefully, it may eventually get to a point where we have more national action on it.”

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