July 25, 2005 | General

Recycling View

BioCycle July 2005, Vol. 46, No. 7, p. 70
Neil Seldman

COMMON sense is taking on a radical tone in the community environmental defense arena as the public is asking why we can’t have clean industry in the U.S. if the same companies that pollute here are operating clean facilities in other parts of the world. This approach is deemed radical because it is directed at the root cause of the issue of production. Thus, the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice at Xavier University in New Orleans is asking why they are surrounded by polluting industrial facilities when the corporations who own and operate these facilities are running comparable facilities in other countries which have to comply with stringent pollution controls. Research to date confirms that their questions are valid.
The Deep South Center draws on local research as well as international case studies. Environmental Studies Professor Paul Templet of Louisiana State University has documented the fact that more stringent environmental rules in Louisiana lead to significantly more economic growth in the state. These results defy the conventional wisdom put forth by corporate polluters. The Center has formed the Louisiana Green Commission to gather the scientific and economic information that may forge new industrial policies to alleviate the pollution and economic depression of the Baton Rouge-New Orleans “cancer alley”.
Any government that wants to develop a clean production/clean environment industry must commit to clear standards and time-frames, proper identification of all problems in air quality, stringent regulations, enforcement, fiscal implications for failure to abide regulations and corporate liability provisions.
Electronics recycling is a case in point. The Computer TakeBack Campaign (CTBC), formed in 2002 by a coalition of leading grass roots environmental organizations, has focused on Extended Producer Responsibility by U.S. computer corporations by comparing the status of toxic free computers required under stringent European Union directives. “U.S. manufacturers can comply with the market standards with new designs for all their computers or produce clean computers for Europe and dirty ones for the U.S. market,” states Sheila Davis of the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition, a leading organization within the CTBC (
The Product Policy Project (PPP), formed in 2003, is also basing its work on a Why Not Here? effort. Taking its cue from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) and the Grass Roots Recycling Network, PPP has started work by comparing the laissez-faire approach to pollution control in the U.S. to the regulatory approach developed in Europe as a result of such drastic environmental failures as the Chernobyl radioactive materials release.
Strong European Union Directives, such as the Waste from Electronical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) and Registration, Evaluation and Authorization of Chemicals (REACH), are policy initiatives based on the polluter pays principle. Further these new rules reverse the burden of proof, requiring that chemicals be proven safe before they are allowed in the marketplace. Extended Producer Responsibility, the Precautionary Principle, the Substitution Principle and Zero Waste are quickly becoming the standard operating procedures for clean production outside the U.S. A new Directive is expected over the next few years focusing on uniform refillable containers. Companies could only vary the appearance of containers via caps, neck tags and labels, allowing for convenient sanitation and reuse.
The Product Take Back Conference, coordinated by Raymond Communications biannually (, has become the central information exchange for government and corporate representatives anxious to keep up to date on new and pending legislation, and corporate responses to these new rules. New rules in Asia, South and Central America as well as Europe are introduced and analyzed in Product Take Back newsletters.
Unfortunately, the U.S. federal government is willfully ignorant of these policies as practical levers for industrial efficiency, public health and ecological safety. While the rest of the world combines new rules and new production techniques, the U.S. strives to lower environmental standards for industry. It leaves people scratching their heads and asking, Why Not Here? Waste in the U.S. economy is an indication of our industrial inefficiency and environmental irresponsibility.
On April 5, 2005, Canadian car manufacturers signed an agreement with the government to reduce greenhouse gasses by nearly six percent by 2010 from new cars and trucks. In Canada, the accord brokered by Natural Resources Canada and two auto industry associations, was hailed as a breakthrough that would force the industry to sell only cleaner and more efficient cars. The agreement has been hailed in the U.S. as a way to bolster efforts for cleaner cars in this country.
California already passed legislation calling for a 30 percent reduction of greenhouse gasses by 2016. U.S. automakers are fighting its implementation in court. “We’re baffled why the companies are telling the Canadian government they can build cleaner cars there but they are fighting us here in California,” states the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Americans should not have to cross the border to buy cleaner cars like prescription drugs.”
Neil Seldman directs the Waste to Wealth Program at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance in Washington, D.C.

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