By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff
PROVIDENCE — Like a blitzing defensive line, corporate lobbyists descended on a Senate hearing Wednesday to turn back several producer responsibility bills.
Producer responsibility, also known as product stewardship and extended producer responsibility (EPR), enlists manufactures in the disposal and recycling of hazardous and bulky items that they produce. Several states have various voluntary and mandatory programs. In Rhode Island, programs exist for mercury thermometers and thermostats.
All of the EPR bills heard at the April 11 hearing of the Senate Committee on the Environment and Agriculture failed to pass out of committee and were held for further study.
Department of Environmental Management Director Janet Coit cited the success of existing EPR programs as the basis for supporting a bill (pdf) to dispose of florescent light bulbs. The bill establishes a committee to create a voluntary or mandatory disposal program for compact-florescent and liner-tube florescent light bulbs, both of which contain mercury.
Several industry lobbyists thought otherwise.
Ric Erdheim, senior counsel at light bulb maker Philips, wowed the committee with a tutorial on the ever-shrinking amounts of mercury in new light bulbs. He even replaced an incandescent bulb on a nearby desk lamp to showoff a new non-mercury, low-energy bulb.
This bulb, he said, is part of a line of new LED and halogen bulbs that nullify the need for a collection program. "This is where the lighting industry is going," Erdheim said.
However, Tricia Jedele of the Conservation Law Foundation and Environment Council of Rhode Island reminded the senators that there are still millions of mercury-containing bulbs out there that will need to be disposed of through higher costs to consumers or higher costs for health care and environmental cleanups.
"And we pay for it in the air we breathe, and the waterways, and when our kids get sick," she said.
The DEM, the Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation (RIRRC) and environmental groups were in agreement with the paint industry and local paint stores about a program to collect and recycle used latex paint and paint buckets and properly dispose of oil-based paints.
The industry-created "Paint Share" program would establish collections for old paint supplies at paint stores. A fee of about a dollar a gallon would be charged to consumers to pay for the program.
Currently, about 60,000 gallons of paint are collected annually in Rhode Island through weekly collections at the RIRRC in Johnston at a cost of about $500,000 a year.
Despite near uniform support for the bill (pdf), it failed to pass out of committee because of delays with delivering a revised version of the bill to the committee.
If passed, Rhode Island would be the fourth state in the country to offer the program.
Central Fall and Providence spend about half of their waste budgets on collecting and disposing of mattresses, many of which are improperly discarded in vacant lots or on the side of the road.
Lobbyists representing the Rhode Island Retail Federation and local hotels, however, opposed a bill (pdf) that would create a committee to develop an EPR program for mattresses.
Christopher Hudgins of the International Sleep Products Association said mattresses are not considered hazardous waste and therefore do not need an EPR program. "We feel like this is not the best system to dispose of mattresses," he said.
The lack of revised copy of a bill to create a collection program for rechargeable batteries prevented this bill (pdf) from moving ahead.