A Public / Private Recycling Model That Just Could Make A Difference

Sometimes ideas are worth recycling.  With that in mind,I wanted to revisit a conference from a few years back in which the departing CEO of Nestle Water, Kim Jeffries knocked the ball out of the park with his message on creating a 21st century solution to dramatically increase the percentage of waste we recycle in our society. 

Currently, only 33% of solid waste generated in the U.S. is recycled, the rest is buried away.  This is an unsustainable and unacceptable number.  He indicated that the 65% of all plastic bottles end up in landfills (this doesn’t include other plastics such as food products, cleaning products, etc.).  In other words, we are burying vast amounts of usable materials and it is bad business.  He brought up the solution Nestle is supporting by saying, “People hate hearing this, but I’m 65 and I don’t care anymore.”  He then went into details on what EPR is, which is summed up nicely by the non-profit Recycling Reinvented, whose mission is to promote EPR:
Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) for packaging and printed paper would require brand owners to pay for the cost of collecting and sorting household recyclables. Currently, consumers pay for this cost through taxes or utility bills. Under EPR, brand owners create one or more nonprofit organizations -a producer responsibility organization (PRO)-  to calculate how to allocate the overall cost of recycling to each brand owner according to sales, recyclability of their products, and other factors. Brand owners then internalize the cost of EPR fees into the price of new products. The PRO then contracts with waste haulers, recycling facilities, and municipalities to cover their cost for collection. Over time, the PRO can find efficiency in the recycling system to help reduce costs.
This approach, which has been demonstrated and piloted in Europe and Canada, generates many benefits for brand owners, governments and society at large.  In a blog post written for the Global Product Stewardship Council by Michael Washburn, Director of Sustainability at NestlĂ© Waters North America, an Extended Producer Responsibility model and why they think it is the right approach to increase recycling rates to 75%:
[EPR] reduces litter in our communities, saves businesses and organizations money by cutting back on energy and raw material costs, and protects the planet by conserving natural resources and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Designed using private sector efficiencies, an EPR model would increase recycling rates, lower municipal spending on recycling and ultimately, reward taxpayers with fewer costs, smaller government and a more effective recycling system in their communities. Further, EPR promises packaged goods companies increasingly reliable access to recycled materials, so we are able to produce the more sustainable products our consumers increasingly want and expect from us.
So, let me see if I can sum up.  A huge company - the third largest beverage company in the US - is promoting an approach (and advancing legislation) to transfer the cost of recycling to the companies whose products are being recycled.  They are doing this because not enough usable material is being recycled, the supply chain for raw materials is unstable and will become increasingly more so over time, and it conserves natural resources.  I’ll let Mr. Jeffries have the last word, since he made the case for EPR so clearly when he said, “It makes money, is the right thing to do and it’s good business.”
Sounds good to me.

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