In 1999, the Minnesota Office of Environmental Assistance (now part of the MPCA) developed a product stewardship policy to promote a new approach to conserving resources, reducing waste and increasing recycling.
At that time, Minnesota sought to achieve the policy's objectives primarily through voluntary efforts and initiatives.
- Task forces and workgroups on specific priority products - carpet, electronics with CRTs, and paint. Participants included representatives from manufacturers, retailers, local governments, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs).
- Minnesota participated in a number of specific projects with manufacturers, retailers, and others to demonstrate product stewardship.
Why product stewardship?
There are four reasons for instituting product stewardship policies in Minnesota: lost resources, increasing amounts of garbage, rising costs to governments and potential harm from toxic material exposure.
Treating waste as a resource has economic benefits
Minnesota manufacturers that make products from recyclable materials employ 8,700 people and contribute about $1.19 billion to our economy. Looking at discarded products as resources rather than waste has the potential to bring additional jobs, economic wealth and tax revenue to the state.
Several Minnesota companies that were started to recover and recycle products have grown nationally. Recyclights, a Minnesota firm, now operates in all the lower 48 states. The firm was created to recycle fluorescent light bulbs which many states have prohibited citizens and businesses from putting in the trash. The firm started with one employee and no revenues in 1992. Now it has over 50 employees, 34 of them in Minnesota, and expects sales of $5 million in 1999.
The amount of garbage in Minnesota keeps growing
While the goal of product stewardship programs is to bring about changes in all aspects of a product – energy and material use, manufacturing processes, and end-of-life disposal – Minnesota's proposal focused on using product stewardship to address issues facing waste management systems.
The amount of garbage Minnesotans throw out has grown at twice the rate of population growth over the past five years. This, despite the fact that Minnesotans recycle almost half of their garbage. Product stewardship can bring about changes in products so that we have less waste and recycle more.
In response to product stewardship requirements in Europe and Asia for electronic products such as computers, manufacturers are making changes to make it easier to reuse and recycle them. Manufacturers are designing computers to make them easier take apart and upgrade. They have also started leasing programs so customers can ?trade in” their old computers for new ones rather than throwing them away.
Minnesota spends a significant and growing amount of money to manage discarded products that cannot or should not be managed as waste
Cities and counties spend $7 million each year to handle products that are a problem for waste systems, such as used motor oil, unused or old paint, fluorescent light bulbs, and old televisions.
In a constantly changing marketplace, businesses have more products for disposal. Some of these products, such as computers and monitors, may pose problems to waste systems. Businesses are not allowed to throw them in the garbage. Businesses can pay $15 to $20 to properly get rid of one computer monitor.
Toxic materials continue to be a problem for our state
Certain materials used in some products continue to be a potential threat to Minnesota's environment and the health of our citizens.
Every pound of lead or mercury in a product has the potential to pose risks to human health and the environment if it is not used and managed properly. Managing in a responsible way means public taxes and fees have to be spent on pollution control equipment or special disposal. Product stewardship can lead to less public money spent for these activities. It encourages redesign of products to remove problem materials before they become problems.