Forty-two years after the recycling movement began on the first Earth Day, a new coalition launched to “bring recycling into the 21st century” by making manufacturers responsible for collecting and recycling the products and packaging they produce. The CRADLE² Coalition includes more than 40 organizations from around the country, concerned about the squandering of natural resources, the impacts on climate change, and the loss of jobs from wasting valuable, recyclable materials in landfills and incinerators.

“We’ve come together because we’re concerned about the human and environmental impacts of throw-away products and packaging,” says Matt Prindiville, Associate Director of the Product Policy Institute and a co-founder of the new coalition.  “We know better products can be designed with people and the planet in mind.  Better systems for recovering, reusing and recycling them will revitalize our economy and create jobs in our communities.”

The name of the coalition, CRADLE², comes from the groups’ vision of building a cradle-to-cradle economy where products and packaging are managed from “cradle to cradle” instead of “cradle to grave.”  In this scenario, says Prindiville, “Manufacturers provide and finance collection programs, ensuring that every consumer product and its packaging are reused or recycled, providing American jobs as well as using resources responsibly.” 

While CRADLE² is launching on Earth Day, this idea is not new.  The policy concept, known as extended producer responsibility (EPR) - also referred to as manufacturer “take-back” or product stewardship - has become one of the dominant policies governing production and solid waste in the European Union, Canada and Japan.  Numerous laws around the world now direct manufacturers to set up and finance collection and recycling programs for consumer products and packaging. 

More than 80 EPR laws in U.S.

In the United States, there are more than 80 producer responsibility laws in 33 states, covering 10 different product categories from used paint to unwanted electronics to leftover carpet and more.  Twenty-four of these producer responsibility laws are aimed at collecting and recycling electronics, in part because many products contain significant amounts of toxic materials.

CRADLE² points to a new report which asserts that getting U.S. recycling rates up to levels achieved in much of Europe and many American cities can lead to millions of new American jobs.  According to the Tellus Institute, boosting recycling from our current national rate of 34% to 75% of municipal solid waste, will result in 1.5 million new jobs and result in greenhouse gas and pollution reduction benefits.

“Most people don’t realize that when we throw away our newspaper or soda can, we are actually throwing away American jobs,” says Abby King, Policy Advocate with the Natural Resources Council of Maine. “In order to get to higher recycling rates that can create millions of new jobs, we need manufacturer take-back policies to build infrastructure, encourage entrepreneurial development and help change consumer behavior.”

Over the next several years, CRADLE² plans to build a grassroots movement for producer responsibility and cradle-to-cradle solutions for better products and less waste.

“Right now, we’re consuming the planet’s resources at a rate which will not allow the next generation to enjoy the same standard of living, or provide them with the same opportunities to live healthy, productive lives on a healthy, productive planet,” says Annie Pham, Policy Advocate with Sierra Club California.  “We owe it to our children to deliver goods and services in ways that sustain and even promote the life-support systems of the planet.”