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Minnesota-Based Recycling Reinvented Promotes Producer Take-Back

RP Siegel | Friday June 8th, 2012 | 0 Comments

Ed note: TriplePundit is coming to Minneapolis this July to put on a GRI certified training course in sustainability reporting. Want to learn more? click here.

Recycling Reinvented is a new non-profit organization aimed at increasing recycling rates of packaging and printed paper. Their model is a newly energized form of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) model, which encourages producers to take the material for reuse.

EPR, which is also known as Product Stewardship, has been demonstrated as a highly effective mechanism for reducing waste, saving energy and reducing material consumption through recycling. It works by shifting the responsibility for the waste back to the people who produced it originally.

By way of background, the practice originated in Europe in the early 90’s, but it made its debut here, in the form of various state bottle bills. California has been the leader in this area with program for all of the following items:

  • Paint
  • Carpeting
  • Thermostats containing mercury
  • Beverage bottles

The EU’s Packaging Waste Directive was instituted in 1994, with most countries meeting or exceeding the 2008 targets of 60% for glass, paper and cardboard, 50% for metals, 22.5% for plastics and 15% for wood.

Meanwhile Germany’s Duales System Deutschland (DSD) has outdone them all, achieving over 100% recycling by collecting more paper and cardboard than what was originally included in the program.

Some companies, like Xerox voluntarily undertook a re-manufacturing program and found that they could significantly reduce cost by recovering parts from products that had reached their end-of-life.

Recycling Reinvented plans to take a broad-based approach, working with all stakeholders including: brand owners, packaging manufacturers, processors, material recovery facilities, haulers, labor, and local and state governments. Their recently hired Outreach Director, Melissa Innes, a former Maine State Representative, will be orchestrating this diverse effort. Innes is a former member of the Maine State Legislature’s Joint Standing Committee on Environment and Natural Resources.

Innes wrote successful EPR legislation in Maine and worked to bridge the needs of business with both the public and with local and state governments.

According to Recycling Reinvented, only 33% of municipal solid waste is getting recycled. The current model currently places most of the burden on state and local governments, and they do not have the wherewithal to realize the potential.

This is because, according to Scott Mouw, Recycling Coordinator for the State of North Carolina, writing for Product Policy Institute, local officials are “unmotivated by prices, have competing internal investments and are essentially unrewarded by the marketplace.”  So recycling Reinvented wants to involve the private sector through the adaption of new EPR programs, where it can (according to Mouw again) “harness the business acumen of corporate capitalism to improve the commodity supply situation, shifting decision-making from conflicted government agencies to more economically rational actors. It would also inject capital that in turn would improve the overall performance of the system.”

Raising our recycling rate from 30% to 75%, says the Recycling reinvented website, would create 1.5 million new jobs by 2030, not to mention getting tons of litter off the streets and keeping it out of our landfills, removing hazardous materials from circulation, saving tons of energy, reducing the drain on our natural resources, and reducing stress on our environment. By attracting private companies to see the inherent value in this process, they will ultimately also help to reduce government spending.

Recycling Reinvented, which just formed this past January, has such notables on its Board of Directors as Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Kim Jeffery, President & CEO of  Nestle Waters North America. Executive Director Paul Gardner is a former Minnesota State Representative.

Minnesota-based Recycling Reinvented has already brought together as many as thirty companies to discuss plans for an EPR packaging program that will work here in America. The expectation is that by introducing the profit motive into the equation, a more efficient  process will emerge.

[Image credit: Courtesy of Recycling Reinvented]

RP Siegel, PE, is the President of Rain Mountain LLC. He is also the co-author of the eco-thriller Vapor Trails, the first in a series covering the human side of various sustainability issues including energy, food, and water in an exciting and entertaining format. Now available on Kindle.

Follow RP Siegel on Twitter.


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