Report outlines global waste reduction efforts
In an effort to show communities how to reduce landfilled waste, the Municipal Waste Management Association, a division of the U.S. Conference of Mayors (USCM) in Washington, has prepared a report outlining reduction strategies both in the United States and around the world.
Titled “Overview of New Legislation and Policies for MSW Reduction and Recycling,” the USCM report’s stated purpose is to “provide an overview of new legislative and policy mechanisms being implemented or considered to increase waste reduction and recycling, with emphasis on packaging materials.” Currently, packaging and disposable products make up approximately two-thirds of the 200 million tons of municipal solid waste (MSW) generated each year across the country.
The report breaks reduction and recovery strategies down into five general models: advance disposal fees (ADFs), packaging taxes, industry take-back laws, voluntary industry programs and locally based initiatives. Each model is illustrated with one or more examples of such programs.
Advance disposal fees are attached to products prior to consumer purchase. The idea is to break down the cost of disposal for a particular product and impose it on the manufacturer, wholesaler or retailer so it may be influenced to incorporate reduction strategies into product or packaging design. It also is an attempt to shift the disposal cost from the taxpayer to the consumer.
More than 280 ADF bills are being debated in legislatures across the country, but only the state of Florida has enacted one into law. Florida’s ADF applies to all containers greater than five ounces in capacity and imposes a $0.01 charge per unit for containers that did not meet a 50-percent recycling rate by January 1993.
The fee was scheduled to increase by one cent per item if the goal was not met by the end of this year but, under fire for unfairly targeting elderly and low-income consumers, the law will be allowed to sunset October 1 after failing to be reauthorized by the Florida legislature.
Packaging taxes differ from ADFs in that the amount of the tax “is not meant to reflect the true costs of disposal but rather is set to motivate industries and consumers to use reusable containers.”
Belgium, Denmark and Finland all impose some form of packaging tax. Belgian taxes run as high as $0.50 per liter of container volume for polyvinyl chloride packaging. Finnish taxes are even higher — up to $0.60 per container.
Packaging taxes, the report says, appear to be very effective in minimizing disposable container packaging; return rates for beverage containers run as high as 99 percent.
Industry take-back laws put the responsibility of managing MSW on the industries that make the products that compose it. In some cases, industry also is required to recycle portions of the wastes it manages.
Currently, eight western European countries either mandate or are in the process of mandating take-back initiatives.
Germany’s laws took effect in three stages, beginning in December 1991. The first phase addressed transport packaging, the second covered secondary or outer packaging, and the third covered primary packaging. In response to the laws, German industry formed the Duales System Deutschland (DSD), a consortium of 600 retailers, packagers, consumer product companies and raw materials manufacturers.
The DSD licenses a “green dot” to manufacturers to place on recyclable packages. The licensing fee, along with sales of recovered recyclables, pays for the DSD-run collection system across the country. In some towns the DSD runs the collection operation; it also can contract out to the municipality itself, and, in other towns, it operates drop-off centers.
Public participation in Germany has been much greater than expected, producing as much as three or four times the anticipated amount of collected recyclables. Recovery was so effective that processing capacity and market demand in Germany were inadequate; German industry began exporting recyclables to foreign markets, often throwing off the equilibrium of those markets.
Despite its high rate of recovery, the DSD announced in 1993 it was $420 million in the red due to high operating costs and low recyclable sales revenue, due mostly to plastics. Consumers ultimately pay the price for this shortfall in the form of higher prices. However, financial difficulties aside, the DSD has worked — German packaging consumption dropped by one million metric tons from 1991 to 1994.
Other countries’ laws, such as France’s, have been less financially painful because they are more flexible than Germany’s. For example, France’s “Eco-Emballages” has set an overall goal of 75 percent “Valorization” by 2003, including refilling, recycling, composting and energy recovery.
Voluntary industry programs consist of agreements between governments and the packaging industry. Canada, Belgium, Switzerland, Australia and the United States have adopted such approaches.
In the United States, eight New England states formed the Coalition of Northeastern Governors, which prohibits manufacturers from intentionally including heavy metals (such as lead, mercury, cadmium or hexavalent chromium) in packaging materials or components.
The locally based initiatives described in the report all adopt some form of unit-based pricing for solid waste collection. These systems include different-sized containers, pay-by-the-bag programs, sticker or tag systems, weight-based pricing or a hybrid of these ideas.
The USCM report also lists its references, which is useful for municipal officials wanting to learn more about a particular approach to reduction or recovery.
For a copy of the report, call the USCM at (202) 293-7330.