Audit, Compliance and Risk Blog

Expanding Recycling Responsibilities for Specific Solid Wastes

Posted by Jon Elliott on Mon, Feb 23, 2015 half a century ago, the Solid Waste Disposal Act (SWDA) of 1965 is one of the first federal statutes in the modern era of environmental protection. SWDA focused originally on worries that a “landfill crisis” combined predictions that landfills would soon be too full to provide disposal capacity, and longstanding concerns that poorly designed municipal and industrial landfills might not protect public health. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has applied SWDA authority to adopt landfill standards, which are administered by state and local governments nationwide.

EPA and states have also extended solid waste management efforts to include support—and in some cases requirements—for recycling and resource recovery efforts designed to keep more solid wastes out of landfills. In some instances, these may include re-refining of oils and chemicals, and remanufacturing of items including metals and other materials.

Many contemporary initiatives incorporate “product stewardship” approaches. These approaches are designed to ensure that environmental considerations are applied at every step in a product’s life cycle, in order to minimize the negative impacts. Within this framework, eventual post-use management of wastes and emissions should be considered at every stage.

Among states, California is adopting the largest set of wastestream-specific programs, so these are identified below as examples. However, residents of other states will find at least some initiatives following this approaches.

What is “Product Stewardship”?

Product stewardship is an approach to environmental protection that focuses on a product’s complete life cycle, and on the roles of each organization in the product life cycle—manufacturers, retailers, users, and disposers. Manufacturers have the primary responsibility, but each involved party shares some responsibility for reducing the product’s environmental impacts. This approach assigns greater responsibility to every party, compared with traditional approaches in which an organization’s role ends when it ceases to have direct contact with the product.

Product stewardship recognizes that product manufacturers must take on new responsibilities to reduce the environmental footprint of their products. For example, manufacturers are expected to evaluate planned or existing products, seeking materials and methods that will minimize environmental impacts. Internationally, the European Union requirements for “waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE)” and “restricting the use of hazardous substances (ROHS)” directives have applied these approaches for more than a decade. When chemicals and hazardous materials are considered this is often referred to as “green chemistry” (I blogged about California’s program here). Manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers are expected to consider packaging and instructions to consumers. Transporters are expected to consider how they move goods through the supply chain. And ultimately, end users must consider environmental and worker safety during product use and post-use waste management.

Even government agencies are expected to consider how their actions affect outcomes. They are expected to consider ways to provide information and incentives, and to design regulatory programs in ways that improve planning, materials handling and management, and waste management.

These programs generally include the following elements:

  • Define targeted materials – based on product type, concentrations of targeted chemicals, volume/mass generated, etc.

  • Fees to fund the program – usually charged per item, at time of retail sale.

  • Define participating brands or manufacturers.

  • Statewide collection network: permanent collection sites operated by retailers, local government and other service providers; and collection events.

  • Transportation: of collected items to consolidation points or processors, using qualified haulers.

  • Regulation of processers.

  • Outreach and education: public awareness and education programs.

  • Program administration—by state and/or local agencies, and increasingly by product stewardship organizations (typically non-profits organized by regulated industry, environmental, and/or community organizations).

Which Wastestreams Are Subject To These Approaches?

Some materials are subject to national requirements, some of which are overseen directly by EPA and others are incorporated into state-level programs established to meet national standards. Wastes subject to these programs include the following:

  • Used oil – most programs provide for recovery of used oils for combustion as fuels, and some provide explicitly for evaluation of contaminant concentrations and re-refining of oils with low enough contamination.

  • Used batteries – in recent years longstanding programs for return and recycling of lead-acid vehicle batteries have been joined by efforts to recover nickel-cadmium batteries and attempts to develop full-blown reuse programs.

Individual states have developed programs that reach additional wastestreams. For example, state programs in California address the following:

  • Waste tire recycling – these provide the opportunity for “used tired products”, which presently consist primarily of products used for rubberized asphalt or artificial turf.

  • Electronic wastes

  • Architectural paints and coatings (I blogged about this here)

  • Carpets

  • Mattresses.

Self-Evaluation Checklist:

To help you organize your activities, consider the following checklist.

  • Has the organization evaluated its solid waste streams, to identify wastes that are subject to specific recycling, recovery or stewardship programs applicable to its facility(ies)? 

  • If so, has the organization evaluated its purchasing, to identify materials that produce these wastes?

  • If so, has the organization evaluated the suitability of available alternatives that would not produce wastes subject to these programs?

  • Has the organization established onsite collection of targeted materials, and delivery of those materials to available destinations (solid waste pick-up, retailer, etc.)?

Where Do I Go For More Information?

Specialty Technical Publishers (STP) provides a variety of single-law and multi-law services, intended to facilitate clients’ understanding of and compliance with requirements. These include:

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About the Author Elliott is President of Touchstone Environmental and has been a major contributor to STP’s product range for over 25 years. He was involved in developing 12 existing products, including Environmental Compliance: A Simplified National Guide and The Complete Guide to Environmental Law.

Mr. Elliott has a diverse educational background. In addition to his Juris Doctor (University of California, Boalt Hall School of Law, 1981), he holds a Master of Public Policy (Goldman School of Public Policy [GSPP], UC Berkeley, 1980), and a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering (Princeton University, 1977).

Mr. Elliott is active in professional and community organizations. In addition, he is a past chairman of the Board of Directors of the GSPP Alumni Association, and past member of the Executive Committee of the State Bar of California's Environmental Law Section (including past chair of its Legislative Committee).

You may contact Mr. Elliott directly at:

photo credit: me and the heap via photopin (license)

Tags: Corporate Governance, Health & Safety, Environmental risks, Environmental, EPA, Hazcom