Producer Responsibility Bills Debated at Statehouse

By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff

PROVIDENCE — Retail and drugstore lobbyists oppose legislation (pdf) requiring disposal of used syringes at their stores.

During a House hearing March 29, supporters of the bill pointed to a successful pilot program that operated from 2002 to 2009. But lobbyist Paul DeRoche of the Rhode Island Retail Federation said the mandate poses a public safety risk in stores.

Robert Goldberg, representing CVS, said the pilot program "hasn't worked out." When pressed by members of the Environment and Natural Resource Committee, he was unable to cite specific costs the retail giant spent on the program. He simply called the sharps collection service "a very complicated problem." 

Sarah Kite, director of recycling services at the Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation (RIRRC), said without collections at pharmacies, hospitals and even fire stations the syringes and other medical instruments, referred to as sharps, often are stashed in plastic bottles that end up in recycling bins.

Sharps, she said, pose a health risk to recycling employees and trigger regular shutdowns of sorting equipment. RIRRC loses an estimated $500,000 annually because of shutdowns, she said.  

The committee voted to hold the bill for further study, along with several other proposed "producer responsibility" bills aimed at cutting waste created by bulky and harmful products.

A paint products disposal program (pdf) also was held for further study. The bill would assess a fee on paint cans and related products in order to fund a stewardship program overseen by the state Department of Environmental Management (DEM) and the RIRRC. The goal would be to create programs for reducing, reusing and proper disposal of unused paint.

A bill (pdf) establishing a system for disposal of large and compact fluorescent light bulbs, which contain mercury, also was held for further study. The National Electrical Manufacturers Associations and other industry representatives complicated the proposal by announcing plans for a similar industry-run light bulb disposal program. Jamie Rhodes of Clean Water Action, a perennial advocate for producer responsibility bills, said the announcement of the alternative proposal was a surprise. "I feel excited that they have an outline of the plan," he said. "With light bulbs having an 8- to 10-year life span we need this program in place."