TK2 Examines Internet Shopping and Cost to Taxpayers

Standing outside Branford’s transfer station, State Sen. Ted Kennedy, Jr., said yesterday he will introduce legislation next session to address a dramatic increase in consumer packaging, including big boxes for small gifts, the result of a surge in online shopping that is costing the state millions of dollars in waste removal.

Those big brown boxes coming to your door this holiday season are often filled with a small gift and lots of secondary and tertiary packaging material, 90 percent of which wind up at the transfer station, costing towns and cities vast amounts of money, he said. They represent “the largest single component of our municipal solid waste stream,” Kennedy said at a mid-day press conference. He said, “About one third of our municipal solid waste is consumer packaging.”

Kennedy said a way has to be found to help towns and cities. “Manufacturers are taking the cost of recycling, collecting, shipping, and burning this excess waste and putting it on the taxpayers of Branford and other municipalities across the state of Connecticut. We want to address this.”

Marcia Chambers PhotoDan McGowan, Branford’s waste management director, said, “We do have a lot of waste coming in here,” he said of the transfer station. “And that waste and its cost are borne by the taxpayer. Currently we ship out about 12 thousand tons of waste annually and that is a direct cost to the town of over $1.5 million to handle that. So anything that can be done on the state level we would appreciate.”

“What is the easiest way for us to reduce this amount of packaging?” One way, Kennedy said, is to provide some sort of economic incentive. “What would be the easiest, simplest, least administratively burdensome cost-effective way to try to reduce this amount of consumer packaging?”

“And is this the essence of your legislation?” the Eagle asked. “That would be the essence of the legislation, yes,” Kennedy replied.

He said he also wants to work with the industry, companies like UPS, FedEx, Walmart, Amazon, and other major shippers “to see what we can do to reduce the size of the boxes, especially in the holiday season.” He said consumers don’t want “these excess boxes and popcorn and material in their house because then they need to make an extra trip to the transfer station, and then it builds up here. We are trying to look at this problem in the most creative way.”

Kennedy said consumers need to know which companies are doing a good job recycling their packaging material and which ones are not.

He said he is looking at several different approaches to new laws. First he would like appropriately sized boxes for the gifts within.

He said he is also thinking of an extended producer-liability program to make shippers and distributors more responsible for how they pack.

How Europe Does It

“We are looking at ideas from the European Union where 15 countries now make shippers and packagers financially responsible for collecting and recycling consumer packaging. That has led to a dramatic decrease in the packaging that is used. It will also help the municipalities who have the added expense of having to deal with so much packaging.” 

Kennedy says he is also exploring a program that would ask companies to participate in a stewardship program to insure packaging materials are recyclable or made of recycled materials. In short, he believes the state needs a new law to hold companies responsible for their products, in this case, boxes and the stuffing within. Connecticut has implemented similar stewardship programs and successfully increased the recycling of unwanted paints, mattresses, and electronics at the end of their lifetime use.

He is also thinking about legislation that boxes be no larger than necessary or be made of recyclable materials.

Marcia Chambers PhotoTracy Camassar, owner of Chapman Mfg. Co in Durham, said at the press conference that her tool-making company has cut packaging waste dramatically by reusing whatever they get in their own boxes, including air pockets and packing peanuts uses. Her company, she said, uses “shredded scrap and junk mail, all a second time before they enter the waste stream.” She says her recycling efforts had greatly reduced the cost of packing. The company recently won a GreenCircle Award from DEEP for not purchasing any packaging materials for its many daily shipments. Employees also bring in packaging stuffing for re-use at their workplace.

“We are to the point where we don’t buy any packaging materials at all,” she said.

Etta Hanlon, a BHS senior and the founder of Branford’s Holiday Recycling Program, attended the conference.

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posted by: robn on December 23, 2015  4:38pm

Its peculiar that State Sen Kennedy’s premise is that shippers or manufacturers “are taking the cost of recycling, collecting, shipping, and burning this excess waste and putting it on the taxpayers.” Therein lies two faulty assumptions:

1) That they are including more packaging than is necessary to deliver the packages undamaged. Why would they purchase excess packaging materials? That reduces profit.

2) That a consumer in receipt of a package surrounded by protective packaging is not responsible for those materials when, in fact, they willfully made a mail order purchase requiring protective packaging.