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Don’t make fun of 'carpet stewardship'

Brick City Blog
discarded carpet padding
CC/Flickr/pheaber
Carpet’s bulk — it makes up about 3% of all solid waste collected — makes it desirable to get out of the traditional garbage handling process.

State Senator Julianne Ortman had an interesting Twitter entry this morning:

Now, I don’t know if Sen. Ortman really doesn’t know what a carpet product stewardship program is, or if she’s just trying to be pithy on Twitter (I suspect it’s the latter). Either way, a little explanation is in order for those of you who may not understand what a product stewardship plan is.

One of the biggest problems our environmental agencies deal with is the impact created by hazardous materials being thrown into the regular garbage. And we’ve taken some steps to deal with those problems. For instance, Minnesota has made it illegal to throw used motor oil away. Most of us, I think, can understand why that provision is in place.

Product stewardship programs take this concept further by requiring manufacturers to participate in a solution for the waste that’s produced by the normal consumer use of their product — for products that create specific problems when handling them as part of the normal solid waste stream. These problems include products that contain toxic chemicals, the sheer bulk of the items, and trying to make sure that items that can be reused or recycled get diverted out of the normal waste stream.

For other types of products, such as paint, household electronics, and other forms of household hazardous waste, the State Legislature has mandated that counties take steps to collect these products. It’s estimated that Minnesota counties spend $5 million a year just handling paint alone. The list of household hazardous waste items is far longer than just paint, though. We don’t systematically recover any dollars dedicated to fund government handling and disposal, which is why county environmental centers have begun charging for a number of items they take in.

The state already has product stewardship programs in place for certain types of electronics and recyclable batteries. The electronics recycling provision charges manufacturers a yearly fee based on how many pounds of the units with the targeted materials they sold in the last year. Sen. Ortman voted for that bill, H.F. 854, in 2007.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has targeted three new categories of products for development of product stewardship programs: paint, non-rechargeable batteries, and carpet. Paint is already handled through household hazardous waste programs at the county level as noted above. The goal of a pant product stewardship program would be to relieve counties of much of the expense that they now incur for that activity and increase the amount of paint that goes through such programs.

For batteries and carpet, there are few opportunities for recycling today, yet both categories of product can largely be recycled and used again. The interest in batteries is primarily to keep their harmful compounds out of landfills and the environment while carpet’s bulk (it makes up about 3% of all solid waste collected) makes it desirable to get out of the traditional garbage handling process.

The devil is in the details, of course, on any such plan. And the catch on any of these is the financing. California was the first state to institute a product stewardship plan for carpet, which was funded by a five-cent per square yard charge at the manufacturer level.

So, no, Big Government’s not coming to tax your Dyson. It’s attempting to deal with a real issue that can impact our environmental quality. Certainly, reasonable people can disagree on the means or the methodology. But I would hope we could all agree that it’s desirable to keep products that are recyclable and can contain harmful chemicals out of our landfills and that it might be worth a look at ways to make that situation better.

This post was written by Sean Olsen and originally published on Brick City Blog. Follow Sean on Twitter: @sean_olsen

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Comments (1)

A tax or fee on manufacturers

Is just a way to internalize the disposal costs and allow the product to better reflect its actual cost -something anyone in favor of personal responsibility or the market should heartily endorse.