Don’t make fun of “carpet stewardship”

State Senator Julianne Ortman had an interesting Twitter entry this morning:

Now, I don’t know if Sen. Ortman really doesn’t know what a carpet product stewardship program is, or if she’s just trying to be pithy on Twitter (I suspect it’s the latter).  Either way, a little explanation is in order for those of you who may not understand what a product stewardship plan is.

One of the biggest problems our environmental agencies deal with is the impact created by hazardous materials being thrown into the regular garbage.  And we’ve taken some steps to deal with those problems.  For instance, Minnesota has made it illegal to throw used motor oil away.  Most of us, I think, can understand why that provision is in place.

Product stewardship programs take this concept further by requiring manufacturers to participate in a solution for the waste that’s produced by the normal consumer use of their product — for products that create specific problems when handling them as part of the normal solid waste stream. These problems include products that contain toxic chemicals, the sheer bulk of the items, and trying to make sure that items that can be reused or recycled get diverted out of the normal waste stream.

For other types of products, such as paint, household electronics, and other forms of household hazardous waste, the State Legislature has mandated that counties take steps to collect these products.  It’s estimated that Minnesota counties spend $5 million a year just handling paint alone.  The list of household hazardous waste items is far longer than just paint, though.  We don’t systematically recover any dollars dedicated to fund government handling and disposal, which is why county environmental centers have begun charging for a number of items they take in.

The state already has product stewardship programs in place for certain types of electronics and recyclable batteries.  The electronics recycling provision charges manufacturers a yearly fee based on how many pounds of the units with the targeted materials they sold in the last year.  Sen. Ortman voted for that bill, H.F. 854, in 2007.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has targeted three new categories of products for development of product stewardship programs:  paint, non-rechargeable batteries, and carpet.  Paint is already handled through household hazardous waste programs at the county level as noted above.  The goal of a pant product stewardship program would be to relieve counties of much of the expense that they now incur for that activity and increase the amount of paint that goes through such programs.

For batteries and carpet, there are few opportunities for recycling today, yet both categories of product can largely be recycled and used again.  The interest in batteries is primarily to keep their harmful compounds out of landfills and the environment while carpet’s bulk (it makes up about 3% of all solid waste collected) makes it desirable to get out of the traditional garbage handling process.

The devil is in the details, of course, on any such plan.  And the catch on any of these is the financing.  California was the first state to institute a product stewardship plan for carpet, which was funded by a five-cent per square yard charge at the manufacturer level.

So, no, Big Government’s not coming to tax your Dyson.  It’s attempting to deal with a real issue that can impact our environmental quality.  Certainly, reasonable people can disagree on the means or the methodology.  But I would hope we could all agree that it’s desirable to keep products that are recyclable and can contain harmful chemicals out of our landfills and that it might be worth a look at ways to make that situation better.

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6 Responses to “Don’t make fun of “carpet stewardship””

  1. Don’t want to speak for the Senator, but I’m assuming that MPCA having a revenue account for this seems kind of stupid. There are many carpet recycling firms available. Simply imform the public that carpet should be recycled, and they can call someone like we do when we buy an appliance, and the recycler comes and picks it up. It never occurred to me that carpet was recycled until now. I imagine few people do. We just bought new carpet an no one mentioned a thing about it to us. Ours was a new install, so we had none, but it certainly wasn’t brought up at the store, like it was when we bought our new washing machine.

    Is there an appliance stewardship revenue account at the MPCA? Maybe there is. The problem with carpet as well as appliances, is that most people have no way to get the old stuff to the recycler. But I don’t think you need a state program to mandate recycling that which is already being recycled voluntarily. there are after all quite a few businesses that do this, and this becomes the raw material for thier products. I’d think a partnership with sellers of carpet would be a great way to manage this effort. Leave the government out of it.

    • Appliance recycling is mandated by law, but no, it’s not covered by a stewardship program.

      As the post noted, there may be several different ways to address the problem, but merely mocking the notion of carpet stewardship doesn’t move the ball forward.

      • I’m all for mocking government mandates when they are this ridiculous, for the record. Seriously. Carpet recycling companies exist. They didn’t start this, here in Minnesota, because there was too much money laying around and they needed to waste some. They did it because there’s money to be made from recycling carpet. No. Mandate. Required.

        • The point of a carpet stewardship program is not about creating a carpet recycling industry. It’s about doing the right thing for the environment. Getting the sheer bulk of trashed carpet (and other products that can be recycled) out of landfills is a good thing — that means we’ll need less landfill space over time.

          • No one is arguing against recycling carpet. It happens today without government mandates. If there’s seriously a problem created by carpet in the landfills, why doesn’t my garbage contractor tell me they can’t take it? If people knew about carpet recycling, and I guarantee few of them do, they would have their carpet recycled. But you can’t put carpet in the recycle bin. I would rarely fit, and the recycler wouldn’t take it. We have had mandates for years on florescent bulbs and yet many still end up in the fills. Heck we used to chuck ours in the incinerator at the grocery store. They are a pain in the neck to deal with. A mandate doesn’t get it done, and isn’t necessary in this case, since it’s already happening. Do you really think Waste Management wants to fill the landfills faster? Why would they?

            Recycling has it’s place, and when their’s enough interest in using the recycled material for another economic purpose, it will happen. It’s not like carpet is a root cause of ground water contamination. If we were all growing arms out of our heads from too much buried carpet, and there was no carpet recycling, then, yes, by all means, create a mandate. But there isn’t so move on. We don’t need government on this. The private sector has this one covered. Make a commercial promoting carpet recycling, and we’ll do it.

            • The private sector was doing such a great job of recycling carpet that you didn’t know the concept existed until reading the original post.

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