The President's Council on Sustainable Development (PCSD), having received a new lease on life, will be pushing ahead with its efforts to proselytize on behalf of "Extended Product Responsibility (EPR)," a concept that has numerous implications for users of packaging.
By Stephen Barlas, Contributing Editor
Martin Spitzer executive director of the PCSD says President Clinton is expected to publish a new agenda for the Council this spring. Spitzer explains that the agenda will focus on insuring that industry takes the next steps toward creating "an environmental management system for the 21st Century." That agenda is sure to rely heavily on EPR shorthand for the process in which a manufacturer gets together with upstream suppliers and downstream customers in an effort to lessen the environmental impact of a product's manufacturing processing and disposal. One example was how S.C. Johnson & Son Inc. Racine WI manufacturers of household cleaning products such as Pledge enlisted steel can manufacturers and a waste recycling company in a campaign to convince cities and counties to include aerosol cans in their existing curbside recycling programs. Samuel Johnson the company chairman sits on the PCSD. President Clinton created the high-level 24-member Council in 1993; since then it has been developing its agenda consisting of a wide-ranging group of environmental objectives that seek to combine natural resource conservation with economic growth. The Council is co-chaired by David Buzzelli vice president and corporate director of The Dow Chemical Co. and Jonathan Lash president of the World Resources Institute. The Council has been careful up until now to pursue actions that are voluntary. No one has spoken publicly about the need for new laws or regulations to force sustainable development on industry or anyone else. That voluntary approach has fit with the Clinton administration's first-term mindset and has kept the PCSD below many people's radar. "I know they are out there but don't know what they have been doing" notes Marla Donahue vice president of public affairs for the Foodservice & Packaging Institute Inc. Making more noise? In Clinton's second term the Council could start making some noise. A close reading of the Council's 1996 report turns up a number of recommendations for somewhat vague changes in Federal law including a call for a new tax commission that would "assess opportunities for increased use of pollution taxes while reducing reliance on more traditional income taxes." The report does not spell out what these pollution taxes might look like. Nonetheless with Al Gore maneuvering for his own run at the top job in the year 2000 there might be a receptivity in the White House to something more than a purely voluntary approach to sustainable development. "Extended Product Responsibility" was one of the high notes hit in the Council's 1996 report. Future environmental gains will come not from regulating discrete industrial processes but from taking a life-cycle approach which "can yield better environmental results at lower cost." The Council's second policy recommendation deals with EPR and includes a number of action items such as creation of a Product Responsibility Panel to review and select demonstration projects recommend any needed legislation and encourage adoption of procurement policies at all government levels. A workshop at the White House Conference Center last fall was the first step to create some national momentum for EPR. Besides S.C. Johnson Ford Motor Co. and Xerox Corp. presented case studies that centered on efforts made to either revamp packaging or create the kind of "upstream-downstream" coalition necessary to pursue new expanded environmentally preferable packaging disposal options. S.C. Johnson's efforts fell into this latter category. Chip Brewer director of government relations for the company explains that the company did a survey through Roper Research in 1990. "One of its major findings" he states "was that recyclability of our aerosol cans would enhance their image with our consumers." The cans had already been made as thin as possible before Johnson approached the Steel Recycling Institute (SRI) the Chemical Specialties Manufacturers Association and a waste hauler in 1991. At that time only a handful of communities included aerosols in their curbside programs. Today over 3 communities do. Bill Heenan president of the SRI says there were a number of "old wives' tales" that had to be overcome. Some city and county recycling coordinators thought aerosol cans still contained CFCs. Others thought the cans nearly always contained some residue of chemicals after the consumer threw them out. Still others thought the empty cans could explode. Heenan says the SRI contracted for a number of studies which vaporized these myths. Today the Pledge can carries a notation: "You can recycle this steel container in an increasing number of communities" wording that was developed to meet the Federal Trade Commission guidelines on environmental marketing claims.