Product Take-Back Bill Clears First Major Hurdle

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The bill outlines three "starter" products- mattresses, paint, and medical sharps- all of which pose significant financial and environmental burdens on RI cities and towns.

PROVIDENCE – Last night, the House Environment & Natural Resources Committee held a hearing for the producer responsibility bill (H5888) lauded by the DEM, Governor’s Office, and environmental advocates throughout the state. The bill, if passed, would set up a process to determine which products should be prioritized for manufacturer-funded collection and recycling programs in the state. The bill outlines three “starter” products- mattresses, paint, and medical sharps- all of which pose significant financial and environmental burdens on RI cities and towns.

Rhode Island already has three producer responsibility laws on the books. The collection of mercury auto switches, electronic waste, and mercury thermostats are managed through programs that are created and funded by manufacturers. The bill heard last night takes the next step in advancing these types of laws by establishing a framework to identify products and create subsequent management policies in a more timely and efficient fashion.

Framework approaches to product stewardship have been successful elsewhere, particularly in Canada. Ontario, Manitoba, and British Columbia have all enacted successful framework laws for managing waste, and the Canadian government is currently exploring the feasibility of a national framework policy. In 2010, Maine became the first state in the United States to pass framework producer responsibility legislation, and similar legislation has been introduced in five other states: California, Minnesota, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington.

“RI has good conditions to pass this bill… you have a ready legislature, you have an able and willing DEM, you have the RIRRC who knows a lot about this issue… you have the right mix here to make it happen,” said Scott Cassell from the Product Stewardship Institute.

Despite some industry opposition, Chairman Art Handy emphasized the opportunity for industries to influence the process moving forward by participating in the conversation now. Tricia Jedele from the Conservation Law Foundation added that this bill “puts manufacturers at an advantage, because they are part of the process of deciding how products will be managed.”

Jedele also stressed a shared responsibility for managing our waste. “This is an air pollution issue, a water pollution issue, a worker safety issue, and a public health issue, but first and foremost it is a community issue. We’re all part of the same community, and, right now the only people paying to manage this issue are the taxpayers. They pay as consumers when they buy products, they pay taxes to dispose of the waste, and then we pay for the consequences of a failed waste management structure. It’s high time for other members of our community to begin to take responsibility for their share of the costs.”

Connie McGreavy, Executive Director of the RI Chapter of the US Green Building Council, also touched on economic and business aspects of the bill. Said McGreavy,
“This kind of bill will promote innovation… and we need to jumpstart our economy.” Nicole Poepping, campaign organizer for Clean Water Action, provided numbers about job creation. “Product reuse operations, such as computer reuse, provide 296 jobs per 10,000 tons of waste per year,” said Poepping, “and recycling-based manufacturers provide 25 jobs. Landfill and incineration provide only one. It’s clear that this bill will not result in job loss, but in job creation.”

Janet Coit, Director of the Department of Environmental Management, summed up the Department’s broader view: “We want to approach this on a systems level. We want to plan for the future in managing our waste stream.”

Source: Clean Water Action

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