Responsibility Is Green

Last modified: March 22, 2019

As it appeared in The Capitol Times (Madison WI), March 27, 2002
By Michelle Gerise Godwin

In 1996, the newly formed GrassRoots Recycling Network kicked off its first Zero Waste campaign with a command: "Take It Back!"

Aimed at Coca-Cola and Pepsi, the group of waste reduction activists challenged the two largest soft drink companies to keep a public promise made some years earlier: Coke and Pepsi had pledged an immediate increase of recycled content in their plastic drink bottles - up to 25 percent - yet the results fizzled.

Luckily, the network - along with socially responsible investment firms, endorsing organizations, and thousands of consumers - has continued to put on the pressure. To date, Coke has set another immediate goal of 10 percent recycled content in its beverage containers, while Pepsi promises its 10 percent by 2005. (An interesting side note on that particular cola product: According to the network, "Not an Ounce of Responsibility: Coke, Pepsi and Plastic Bottle Waste," Pepsi currently uses 0 percent recycled plastic in its bottles and, after its acquisition of Gatorade, actually attempted to eliminate that brand's recycled plastic content. Talk about the Joy of Waste! Couldn't Britney do something?)

"What we're working on with Coke and Pepsi is an example of a key element for Zero Waste, and that is EPR or Extended Producer Responsibility," says David Wood, the network's program director. "Meaning, manufacturers need to take back their product at the end of its useful life, instead of having it end up in landfills or burned in incinerators at the public's expense. GRRN targeted these two beverage giants because in the last decade the rate of plastic bottles wasted has doubled, and that has to stop."

Overall, says Wood, the current paradigm of wasting is ineffective. He notes that along with the push for recycled plastics, the beverage container recovery rate needs to increase as well. Business and Environmentalists Allied for Recycling would like to see that number hit 80 percent, says Wood, and one of the best ways to attain that goal is through introducing "bottle bills," or deposit laws.

Another part of the paradigm involves the disposal of electronic devices. "That waste has been shipped overseas to Asia under the pretext of recycling, when again, it should be the producers' responsibility here in the U.S.," says Wood. Indeed, according to a recent New York Times article, between "50 and 80 percent of electronics waste collected for recycling in the United States is placed on container ships and sent to China, India, Pakistan or other developing countries."

Computer monitors and television displays containing an average 8 pounds of lead are often burned out in the open in order to extract bits of gold or copper. The Times reported that young children are used for dismantling materials such as toner cartridges and are unaware of the hazards. "Workers without any protective respiratory equipment or special clothing of any kind opened cartridges with screwdrivers and then used paint brushes and their hands to (transfer) the toner into a bucket. . . . the process created constant clouds of toner, which were routinely inhaled."

In response, says Wood, the GrassRoots Recycling Network and [off-site] have launched a campaign against Dell, demanding that the computer manufacturer "match its position as the global profit and sales leader with superior environmental performance and lead the PC and consumer electronics industries to take back products at the end of their useful life."

Again, it comes down to EPR," says Wood. "Individuals have no say in the design of products or the marketing of products, yet we get stuck with figuring out how to dispose of them and it is our health and our environment that is at risk. And with shipping waste abroad, other people's health and environment are at risk. Now more than ever, we need corporate responsibility for waste and public policy that promotes sustainable domestic solutions."

For more information on the GrassRoots Recycling Network and Zero Waste campaigns, go to, or call David Wood at 270-0940.
Michelle Gerise Godwin is a Madison writer.

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