Archive for February, 2011

It’s odd that a city as “green” as Boston has such a low recycling rate. The Sparking Boston’s Climate Revolution report states that Bostonians recycle approximately one-seventh of the trash they produce, but that more than one-half of their trash could be recycled.  Perhaps we should advocate for extended producer responsibility (EPR) or product stewardship laws as a higher order strategy to divert more trash from landfills. EPR laws shift some responsibility for recycling, disposal, and reuse of consumer products from the government to product manufacturers.  A major objective of these laws is to motivate manufacturers to develop products that can be recycled and disposed of at a lower monetary and environmental cost.

The Product Stewardship Institute (PSI), a national advocacy organization for the product stewardship movement, calls Boston home.  The institute was founded in 2000 by Scott Cassell, a former Director of Waste Policy and Planning for the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs.  PSI’s core principles of product stewardship include: sharing responsibility for product impacts among producers, consumers, and governments; internalizing products’ entire costs; creating incentives for manufactures to develop cleaner products; allowing responsible parties flexibility to efficiently address their products’ impacts; and defining clear roles for consumers, industry and governments to support product stewardship.

The Product Stewardship Institute promotes legislation, undertakes research, and educates the public on product stewardship.  For example, last year, California enacted AB 1343, a bill that will create a paint product stewardship program requiring left over consumer paint to be managed by manufacturers.  AB 1343 mirrors a 2008 Oregon bill that was created with the help of PSI, which worked to convene paint manufactures, retailers, recyclers, and government officials to develop the bill together.  PSI is also a source for product stewardship publications and has submitted comments and testimony on various product stewardship bills.

Several countries have adopted national product stewardship laws. Canada’s 2009 Canada-wide Action Plan for Extended Producer Responsibility created national standards and goals for product stewardship. The first phase of the action plan requires provinces to develop EPR management programs for several products by 2015, including packaging, e-waste, and hazardous household waste.  Phase 2 requires EPR management programs to be in place by 2017 for construction materials, demolition materials, furniture, textiles and carpet, and appliances.

The EU product stewardship legislation is modeled after national laws in Germany, Belgium, France, and Austria. It covers product packaging, end-of-life vehicles, e-waste, and batteries.

Although the U.S. does not have national EPR laws, over 30 states, including Massachusetts, have legislation which mandates that the end-of-life of certain products is handled by producers and businesses (see map below).  Massachusetts has a single extended producer responsibility law that restricts the sale of mercury-added products and mandates that auto manufactures institute a collection program for mercury-added auto switches.

In 2010, Maine became a national leader with its Product Stewardship Bill.  Before this bill, Maine had extended producer responsibility laws for mercury-containing auto switches, e-waste, certain batteries, and mercury bulbs and thermostats.  This new bill calls on Maine’s Department of Environmental Protection to review existing product stewardship programs for improvements and recommend new product stewardship programs to the state legislature.  Last month, the DEP submitted its first report to the legislature and recommended that product stewardship programs be developed for paint, unused pharmaceuticals, and used medical sharps.  As states increasingly create their own product stewardship laws, the importance and value in creating national laws will grow.


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Boston’s Government Center program is a great example of both local government action and federal support in sustainable matters. This type of interaction can also have a productive role outside of renewing government property, into individual communities. On a more local level, the Sustainable Chinatown project is characteristic of Boston’s private/public partnership approach to green efforts. Granted $100,000 by the Barr Foundation, the project represents cooperation between the Boston Redevelopment Authority, City of Boston, Asian American Civic Association, utilities and community businesses in Chinatown. According to our friends at the BRA,

The goals of the project are to help Chinatown businesses address the issues of rising energy, water, and solid waste management costs by providing practical and affordable solutions to help business owners save money and reduce environmental impacts, while building long term sustainable business expertise capacity in the community.

Sustainable Chinatown also demonstrates how sustainable changes aren’t just good for the environment, but very much good for business as well. Building efficiency is a natural starting point for efficiency gains both environmental and economical, so Sustainable Chinatown will offer energy efficiency upgrades, waste management and renewable energy solutions. Already, Chinatown businesses have undergone over 50 audits and 25 upgrades, indicating positive local buy-in.

The process starts with Sustainable Chinatown  Program Director Emily Damiano (who herself has worked in Chinatown for over 11 years) approaching a local firm with the proposal to perform an energy audit. Then, a written agreement is signed, and the audit takes place to determine what the building’s upgrade needs are. Needed materials like light bulbs are then delivered to the site for installation.

The ultimate goal is to help local business manage costs in an efficient, sustainable way that also contributes to their continued economic success. While it can be difficult for local businesses to know where to start, organizations like Sustainable Chinatown serve a important role in both informing and assisting these communities in their sustainability efforts.

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On Earth Day 2010 (04/22/10), the Climate Action Leadership and the Community Advisory committees sent the report Sparking Boston’s Climate Revolution to Mayor Menino.  The report offers strategies for achieving Mayor Menino’s goal to reduce Boston’s GHG emissions 25% by 2020.  The proposals covered three areas: building efficiency and energy, solid waste, and transportation.

The report states that 27% of Boston’s 2008 GHG emissions originated from the transportation sector.  To make reductions, Boston has several programs in place including WalkBoston, Boston Bikes, Complete Streets and the diesel retrofit grant program for businesses.  Additionally, the city has retrofitted its diesel vehicles to run on biodiesel and has begun to retrofit school buses for ultra low sulfur diesel fuel and pollution control. To reduce transportation GHG emissions even more, the committees recommend the following:

  • Encourage the use of energy efficient taxis, and find ways to require efficiency improvements in taxis.
  • Develop a public campaign to improve automobile use behavior including improved vehicle maintenance, reduced driving speeds and smooth acceleration.
  • Improve enforcement of excessive anti-idling laws and educate the public on the benefits of reduced idling.
  • Expand bicycle infrastructure, including bike lanes and parking areas.
  • Promote bicycle and car sharing programs.
  • Utilize social media to encourage the use of mass transit, bicycling, walking, and ridesharing.
  • Encourage businesses to join transportation management associations.
  • Increase parking meter rates and analyze the costs and benefits of increasing meter hours.
  • Institute residential parking permit fees, including a graduated fee structure based on the number of vehicles in a household.

The committees predict that 30% of Mayor Menino’s GHG reduction goal can be achieved by creating and expanding green transportation programs.

Boston is one of several cities nationwide focusing on transportation emissions. Another leader is the San Francisco Bay Area.  Recently, seventeen transportation projects in the Bay Area each won a share of $33 million in federal funds from the Bay Area Metropolitan Transportation Commission Climate Initiative Program.  Nearly $10 million was awarded to electric vehicle purchase programs, including $6.9 million to purchase electric taxis in San Francisco and San Mateo and $1.7 million to buy electric vehicles for a car-share program in Berkeley and San Francisco.  The city of Berkeley also received $2 million to institute a new parking plan, which will include the creation of a flexible parking permit system designed to discourage driving and the installation of smart parking meters to afford variable parking fees.  Other programs received awards to create green school routes.  For example, Alameda County received $500,000 for its BikeMobile project, which will use a mobile truck to provide bike repairs along with bike safety and repair education to school children.  Other counties also received funding to create bike-sharing and car-sharing programs.  As these seventeen projects are instituted, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission hopes to find programs to expand throughout the Bay Area.

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