New EPA Guidance Encourages the Use of EMSs in Enforcement Cases

June 13, 2003
To encourage the widespread use of Environmental Management Systems (EMSs), EPA has announced a new guidance to promote their use in compliance assurance and enforcement programs.

An EMS is a continual cycle of planning, implementing, reviewing, and improving the processes and actions that an organization undertakes to meet its business and environmental goals. The guidance will increase the use of EMSs in civil settlements and also explains how they will be used to address the root causes of violations and the risks they pose to communities and ecosystems. In addition, EPA is working with the U.S. Department of Justice to seek EMSs in appropriate criminal plea agreements to achieve beneficial outcomes for the environment. EPA also has issued a memorandum, Expanding the Use of Supplemental Environmental Projects (SEPs), to encourage and expand their use in enforcement settlements and in community involvement.

The EMS guidance is an extension of EPA's May 2002 Position Statement on EMSs, in which the agency committed to promote EMS use and emphasize the adoption of EMSs to achieve improved environmental performance and compliance and pollution prevention through source reduction.

Issued by EPA's Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, the Guidance on Use of EMSs in Settlements as Injunctive Relief and Supplemental Environmental Projects (SEPs), will be available at beginning June 13. For additional information on EMSs, go to

Electronics Waste Debate May Not Consider Small Business

Electronics makers are feeling the pressure to cut a deal for a national takeback program, given that 26 states have introduced no less than 52 bills that would force the issue of recycling one way or another, according to State Recycling Laws Update from Raymond Communications, Inc.

Both California and Massachusetts lawmakers are moving on manufacturer "takeback" (or EPR) bills.

The stakes are high, because if states try to implement a patchwork of individual "takeback" laws, "it could be disastrous," says publisher Michele Raymond, who has been tracking recycling policy for 15 years. "Many of these bills have not been thought through very well. There is a presumption that there are only a few computer 'manufacturers' out there, and that there will magically be U.S. markets for all of the material generated."

"If a state wants to require reporting and takeback of electronics items, they will have to locate all of the manufacturers," she notes. One often ignored fact is that a large percentage of computers sold are "boxes," assembled by local computer firms.

Moreover, the majority of electronics items and parts are made in Asia, so finding and forcing some of these far-flung companies to report and "take back" or pay fees could be nearly impossible.

Most of the bills focus on keeping cathode ray tubes (CRTs) out of landfills. In fact, four states have now banned CRTs from landfills (California. Massachusetts, Maine and Minnesota).

While no one wants the leaded glass in incinerators or landfills, recyclers say that within a few years, there may not be any U.S. markets for recycled CRT glass. Since Dow Corning is closing its Pennsylvania leaded glass plant, there are only four U.S. manufacturers are left, and they are having a difficult time competing with cheap Chinese imports.

A number of the state bills would ban exports of used electronics unless the receiving country has comparable working conditions to the U.S. "There will have to be some exports of electronics or components to Asia, because that is where electronics are now made" she says.

China's recent ban on imports of scrap electronics has not stopped the flow of old electronics to illegal operations, because they seem to get in "underground," Raymond points out, referring to a recent Washington Post story. However, the policy has stopped the critical feedstock for legitimate Chinese recyclers, and there are no opportunities for low income Chinese people to obtain refurbished computers.

Many more state bills would ban all heavy metals, brominated flame retardants and polyvinyl chloride in electronics, with no exemptions. These are more stringent than the European Union RoHS directive, which has exemptions.

While there is no argument that lead and mercury should be phased out of products when feasible, Raymond notes that a European study found more lead in the environment from fishing sinkers than lead solder in circuit boards. Other technical reports cite concern that the expensive lead solder replacements may have worse environmental attributes, and may be more difficult to recycle.

A more recent study from the High Density Packaging User Group found that there was no cadmium, chromium VI or mercury used in today's circuit boards, contrary to estimates from a 1998 study widely quoted in the media.

"The big issue is not toxicity or whether retailers can take back old units -- but how to deal with the really old stuff in people's garages. There are hundreds of millions of old computers, TV, printers out there in storage. That's going to take cooperation of government and industry to cope with. No one has a clear handle on the volume or toxicity -- and no one wants to foot the bill."

Raymond is critical of industry one on point: computers need to be designed for upgradability, not obsolescence. "Long life would mean less waste. In this economy, small businesses cannot afford to replace their computers every two years."

American Chemical Council Calls for Fix to Natural Gas Prices

Calling the current energy bills in both the House and Senate “weak” and “inadequate,” American Chemistry Council President and CEO Greg Lebedev called on President Bush to mandate energy conservation in the federal government to prevent a natural gas price catastrophe this summer and winter. He also called on Congress to undo federal policies that place America’s natural gas supplies off limits.

Natural gas prices recently have risen by 300%, and analysts predict even further price hikes during peak cooling and heating seasons. The U.S. currently has a 19-day supply of natural gas, and the nation’s inventories are 28% below the five-year average. Some analysts are raising the specter of the winter of 1977 when shortages of natural gas led to rationing and school closings.

Lebedev made his statement as Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan was testifying before the House Energy and Commerce Committee on natural gas supply and demand concerns. Greenspan two weeks ago raised the issue before the Congressional Joint Economic Committee, saying, “I’m quite surprised at how little attention the natural gas problem has been getting because it is a very serious problem.” Greenspan also lamented that “this is an issue we have not addressed, and we have, honestly, contradictory federal policy.”

Lebedev echoed Greenspan’s concerns. “For too long the government has mandated the increased use of natural gas but won’t let the nation drill for new supplies,” Lebedev said. “Artificially increasing demand and limiting supply is a recipe for disaster.”

“The government created this problem, and it’s time they contribute to the solution,” he continued. “The President can order the federal government to cut back on energy consumption in federal facilities, and he should use the bully pulpit to appeal to state governments, businesses and every American to conserve. Immediate conservation is the only way our country will meet the air-conditioning needs this summer and heating needs this winter without huge price shocks.”

Lebedev also urged the House and Senate to remove artificial barriers on drilling for natural gas. “The current bills before the Congress do little or nothing for our industry and American consumers,” Lebedev stated. “Natural gas is vital to the American economic recovery – our nation must be able to go get the gas.”

“Our competitors in Europe and Asia can buy natural gas for one-fifth to one-tenth the price we’re paying now,” he continued. “No company, no industry, no consumer can absorb a threefold increase in major raw material prices and continue to compete in the global marketplace. Runaway natural gas prices already have caused chemical plants to close and are placing 250,000 high paying manufacturing jobs at risk by moving manufacturing facilities overseas.”

Corn-Based Deli Packaging Makes its North American Debut

Corn has always been a staple in grocery stores, but it is catching customers' attention like never before as Wild Oats Markets, Inc., (Nasdaq: OATS) replaces their petroleum-based plastic packaging with a corn-based alternative at their Nature’s/Wild Oats Portland locations. Called NatureWorks™ PLA, this natural-based material is allowing the company to pioneer a fresh approach to in-store delis.

NatureWorks PLA is the first commercially viable, annually renewable resource-based biopolymer to be used in large-scale, North American commercial grocery applications. Nature's/Wild Oats is using packaging made with NatureWorks PLA in 11 locations throughout the Portland metropolitan area, with plans to expand the campaign nationally into all 77 Wild Oats stores. Currently, they are serving fruit, salads, cheese, deserts and other deli items in the corn-derived containers.

"Customer response has been terrific to this new packaging," said Kurt Luttecke, Nature's/Wild Oats Area Director of Operations. "Not only are these new containers 100 percent natural, they're as functional or better than the plastic tubs the industry uses as far as strength, clarity and sealing in the flavor and aroma of our deli products."

Research indicates that more sustainable products, such as those made from NatureWorks PLA, are highly sought after by consumers for their unique raw material source and ability to be fully compostable in municipal systems at the end of its useful life. According to a Gallup poll that looked at consumers’ attitudes about the environment, 74 percent of them have specifically bought products because they were better for the environment than competing products. Additionally, more than two-thirds of Americans claim to avoid using products that harm the environment.

Nature’s/Wild Oats is also currently in negotiations with a local vendor who can collect the returned containers, and after a 47-day biodegradable process bring back commercial compost that customers can buy and use as all-natural plant food for their gardens.

NatureWorks PLA technology produces the renewable resource-based resin by "harvesting" carbon from that has been removed from the air by corn plants during photosynthesis and stored in grain starches. This is achieved by breaking down the starches into natural plant sugars and, through a simple process of fermentation and separation, using the carbon and other elements in these natural sugars to make the plastic polylactide (PLA). NatureWorks PLA is 100 percent matter derived from corn.