Guest author Michael Washburn discusses "Recycling Reinvented" and why Nestlé Waters North America is advocating for an extended producer responsibility model in the U.S.

Recycling, the cornerstone of a sustainable society, epitomizes the triple bottom line of “people, profit, planet.” It reduces litter in our communities, saves businesses and organizations money by cutting back on energy and raw material costs, and protects the planet by conserving natural resources and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. It also drives economic growth. In fact, a recent recycling study shows that if the U.S. could increase its recycling rate to 75 percent by 2030, it would create 1.5 million additional jobs.

While the case for recycling is compelling, annual recycling rates in the United States continue to stagnate at a dismal 33 percent.1

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Michael Washburn of Nestlé Waters North America

As valuable resources lay waste in landfills, logistics costs continue to rise and government recycling programs face fiscal insecurities, it is becoming increasingly clear that we need a new approach to recycling in the U.S. At Nestlé Waters North America, we are committed to advancing recycling policies to capture and reuse every beverage container produced. We believe the time has come for packaged goods companies, the producers of materials that often end up in landfills, to drive an innovative solution to improving recycling rates for the long term.

The solution we propose is Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR), a model that would bring the financial responsibility of recycling to the industry, and increase access to curbside recycling and recycling away from home – not just for bottles, but for all product packaging. With EPR, brand owners pay for the collection and recycling of their products when they reach end of use – but to be effective, the model demands collaboration across a broad range of stakeholder groups, including brand owners, trade associations, private haulers, municipalities, state legislatures, environmental NGOs, retailers and more. Working with Recycling Reinvented, a new nonprofit organization committed to increasing recycling rates in the U.S. through EPR, we believe we can help drive a more effective and efficient recycling model that better meets the needs of the American marketplace.

As a packaged goods company, Nestlé Waters North America’s success depends on ensuring we have a reliable supply of high quality material to package our water. With increased access to recycled plastic, bottling can be done even more sustainably. The same is true of other industries and their packaging. By increasing recycling rates, EPR will help us produce the more sustainable products that our consumers want and expect from us, reduce government spending and lower taxpayer costs currently paying for an inefficient system.

Business success today requires constant innovation to meet 21st century sustainability challenges. EPR can deliver both business and social value, and represents the future way of doing business—one where generating profits and providing social good are not mutually exclusive. By collaborating with policymakers, environmental advocates and industry partners through an EPR model, together we can increase U.S. recycling rates, provide supply chain sustainability and stability and create millions of green jobs. We know EPR can work—we’ve seen it demonstrated successfully in Europe and helped pilot it in Canada. Now, it’s time to make it work in the U.S.

Michael Washburn is director of sustainability for Nestlé Waters North America.

1 EcoWatch (May 29, 2012). Recycling Reinvented—Working with Top U.S. Industry Leaders to Bring EPR to the U.S. EcoWatch. Retrieved June 19, 2012, from http://ecowatch.org/2012/recycling-reinvented-working-with-top-u-s-industry-leaders-to-bring-epr-to-the-u-s/

Photo courtesy Wikipedia.

About The Author

Michael Washburn

Michael Washburn is the Director of Sustainability at Nestlé Waters North America (NWNA). His primary focus is working with a coalition of recycling stakeholders to advance Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) for packaging and printed paper in the United States. Michael’s work also includes building NWNA’s efforts towards innovation in energy usage and building design across its manufacturing facilities, encouraging constructive water policy initiatives, and engaging with stakeholders about the environmental efforts of NWNA. Prior to NWNA, Michael held a senior position at The Wilderness Society and was Vice President of Brand Management at the Forest Stewardship Council-US. Michael holds a Ph.D. in forest policy from Penn State University and has served as an advisor to the USDA Forest Service on sustainability issues. Michael serves on several nonprofit boards of directors and devotes significant time and energy to the fields of workplace giving and disability advocacy.