California municipality signs off on plan to make companies pay for their disposals

Daily Democrat
By Democrat staff
Created: 12/16/2010 02:30:05 AM PST

With little fanfare, the Woodland City Council has signed off on a plan that basically makes companies responsible for paying for the disposal of their goods and packaging.

Acting Tuesday night, the council adopted a resolution the ultimate aim of which is to gain “fiscal relief” from the costs of disposing of hazardous and solid waste that results each time, anyone in Woodland buys anything from a razor to a refrigerator.

According to a report prepared by city staff Marshall Echols, conservation coordinator, and Roberta Childers, environmental resource analyst “state policies place the burden on local governments to achieve waste diversion goals and to ensure the proper disposal of household hazardous waste, universal waste, and other problematic waste products, such as unused pharmaceutical products.”

However, more and more cities in California are turning the tables on manufacturers under a concept known as “Extended Producer Responsibility,” or “product stewardship,” which makes producers responsible for proper handling and disposal or recycling of products at the end of their useful life.

To date, 83 cities and 32 counties and numerous organizations, have adopted Extended Producer Responsibility resolutions. The Yolo County Board of Supervisors adopted a resolution in support in July 2008 and has been joined by Davis, Winters, and West Sacramento.

The way the system works now is that managing product waste disposal falls on local government. In short, if a person in Woodland buys a product and then throws it away when it’s used up, or no longer works, the cost of that disposal falls to the city.

“Many products today are designed for disposal, rather than reuse or recycling,” according to the report. “Given the complexity of today’s waste stream and the staggering proliferation of product waste, both the toxicity and the volume of the waste stream are of growing concern to local governments. Solid waste ratepayers and taxpayers are financing costly collection infrastructure and programs that, in effect, amount to subsidies for product manufacturers who profit from the sale of products without having to take responsibility for their safe and efficient disposal, reuse, or recycling.”

According to the city’s report, the Environmental Protection Agency estimates about 75 percent of today’s waste comes from manufactured products.

These include common household items such as televisions, cell phones, personal computers, fluorescent lights, batteries, and other products that contain lead, cadmium, mercury, and other toxic heavy metals that pose a threat to public health and the environment when disposed of improperly.

Other products without toxic components, such as hypodermic needles and other “sharps,” can be dangerous and harm the public and sanitation workers when disposed of improperly. Additionally, much product packaging is excessive and/or cannot be recycled.

As a result, beginning in 2006, the state banned the landfill disposal of “universal waste,” which includes fluorescent lights, household batteries, electronics, mercury switches and other products containing hazardous components.

In 2008 the state banned the landfill disposal of “sharps,” such as syringes and lancets. Because of growing concerns about the presence of prescription and non-prescription drug residues in our waterways, it is anticipated that pharmaceutical waste will likely be banned from landfill disposal in the near future.

But in the final cost calculation, it falls to the state’s cities — including Woodland — to pay for that disposal. And with money short, governments are now fighting back in an effort to recover those costs, or eliminate the material entirely from landfills.

In contrast to requiring local governments to fund collection and recovery programs for discarded products, “Extended Producer Responsibility” would establish performance goals for so-called “stewardship programs” that are designed and implemented by producers, and would ensure that the cost of product lifecycle management is captured in the cost of the product.

“This approach creates a sustainable funding source for end-of-life product management instead of passing the costs onto taxpayers and ratepayers,” the council was told in the report.

The proposed “Extended Producer Responsibility” policy approach, however, doesn’t tell how producers must take responsibility, preferring to let companies figure it out.

To give an idea of what this is costing city residents, the council was told around 51,000 tons of municipal solid waste is annually sent from Woodland to disposal at Yolo County Central Landfill at a cost of $37.72 per ton, or a total annual cost of about $1.9 million.

Cutting that amount, or diverting the cost to producers would save the city money and aid the environment.

How Woodland — or any other city for that matter — will go about doing that, however, is not yet decided.