By Jerri-Lynn Scofield, who has worked as a securities lawyer and a derivatives trader. She is currently writing a book about textile artisans.
I’m getting sick and tired of seeing the latest recycling misdirection – as I know the plastics – industry sponsors this ’solution’ to the plastics crisis. Which dumps onto you and me responsibility to sort our plastics waste – and send it off to be ‘recycled’.
It seems, however, that NY – where I live -might be about to do the right thing about plastics waste management. And by that I mean not offload onto the recycling fairry a magical solution to the plastics crisis, but to place responsibility for managing plastics waste on those who create the problem in the first instance. According to NPR:
Now, the New York legislature is deliberating two extended producer responsibility bills as its session nears its June 2 close. Lobbying by business and environmental groups has been particularly intense around details such as what recycling goals must be met and who sets them. Industry and environmentalists alike believe that when a state as big as New York adopts a law, it creates a template or standard that other states might adopt too.
While each state’s legislation varies, the system generally works like this:
Beverage companies, shampoo-makers, food manufacturers and other producers will keep track of how much of each sort of packaging they use.
These producers will reimburse government recycling programs for handling the waste, either directly or through a consortium called a “producer responsibility organization.”
Fees will be lower for companies that use easily recyclable, compostable or even reusable packaging, a mechanism that supporters say will provide incentives to adopt more sustainable practices.
Recycling centers will use the money to cover their operating costs, expand outreach and education, and invest in new equipment.
“We think corporations will produce less virgin materials because they are charged by the amount they put out there, and certainly less eco-unfriendly materials,” said New York state Sen. Todd Kaminsky, a Democrat from Long Island who sponsored one of the bills pending in Albany.
As regular NC readers are well aware, recycling claims are usually bogus. Very little of the waste sent for recycling actually gets recycled. The pandemic shut down many recycling programs. We separate our waste, thinking that we’re doing something about the plastics crisis. We’re not. Over to NPR:
Recycling rates in the U.S. have stagnated over the past decade at around 30% to 35% across all materials in the waste stream; the recycling rate of plastics — a growing form of packaging — is much lower. The Environmental Protection Agency estimated in 2018 that only 8.5% of plastic refuse was recovered to produce new products. (Two environmental groups recently estimated the real recycling rate to be even lower, given that not all recovered plastics end up being recycled.)
The burden of recycling falls not just on consumers to sort their containers properly, but also on cities and counties, where officials once thought recycling could pay for itself. But that has not been the case, especially because of recent decisions by China and other Asian countries to refuse to accept plastic waste imports. In 2021, the WWF calculated that the management of plastic waste costs about $32 billion a year worldwide.
“Such radical change will be costly, will carry its own risks of unintended consequences, and simply is not necessary to improve the state’s recycling and waste reduction outcomes,” the business group said in an open letter.
But some national corporations and plastics manufacturers have been more supportive, to an extent.The Recycling Partnership, a group funded by corporations such as General Mills, Coca-Cola and Exxon Mobil (which, as an oil and gas company, provides the raw materials for plastics), has endorsed the idea, so long as producers maintain some control over the fees and targets in the new system. (Exxon Mobil is a financial sponsor of NPR.) “How could you possibly run a system of this scale and get companies ultimately to change their packaging design, possibly shift to using more sustainable materials — how could we possibly do that without their participation?” said Michael Washburn, a senior policy adviser at the organization.
The key insight, that might point us to a better waste management system:
“Packaging doesn’t have to be the way we know it,” Kaminsky said. “Why in a box of cereal is there packaging within other packaging? You know, you reach into the box, and there’s a sleeve containing Cheerios or something. But when you get potato chips, it’s just in the sleeve. There’s no box around it. Why is that?”
Indeed. I’m constantly amazed to see the excess of packaging. When I shop myself, I can reject it. But, when I order online- even from local sources, which I sometimes do – there’s always excess packinging. Unnecessary plastic bags, for instance. I never place items in plastic bags. But if one orders three bell peppers, the grocery store places them in a plastic bag before sending them to me. Why?
How can we say no to plastic?
Why is an additional plastic bag always the default option?