Why Not Here?: A simple question that corporations and governments are being asked more frequently.

Date: 12 Mar 2005 | posted in: Waste to Wealth | 0 Facebooktwitterredditmail

Neil Seldman Waste to Wealth Program Institute for Local Self-Reliance Washington, DC 20005

12 March 2005

Common sense is taking on a radical tone in the community environmental defense arena as the public is asking why can’t we have clean industry in the US if the same companies that pollute here are operating clean facilities in other parts of the world.

This approach is deemed radical because it is directed at the root cause of the issue of production. Thus, the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice at Xavier University in New Orleans is asking why they are surrounded by polluting industrial facilities when the corporations who own and operate these facilities are running comparable facilities in other countries which have to comply with stringent pollution controls. Research to date confirms that their questions are valid.

In 2002, The South Durban Community Environmental Alliance, in South Africa, and the Danmarks Naturfredningsforening, in Denmark, studied the energy consumption, energy emissions, nitrogen oxides, carbon oxides, particulates, odor, noise, complaints and accidents, and emissions from anti-knocking additives (hydrogen fluoride, mercury, dioxins) at four oil refineries, two located in Denmark and two located in South Africa. The facilities vary in size and capacity, but produce a comparable product mix. The emissions in all categories were significantly higher in South Africa than Denmark. Key factors in the different circumstances were access to information, regulation and the threat of penalties. In Denmark, these factors led to improved environmental management practices during the l970’s and l980’s. In South Africa, these actions are in their developmental stage. Tension between industry and communities remain as the community feels threatened by facilities. There are indications that the study has stimulated positive dialogue between community and industry in South Africa, and that improvements in environmental management are expected. External pressure from local community organizations and international environmental organizations is critical if a full transition to Best Available Control Technology in the South African oil industry is to occur, the study concludes.[1]

Any government that wants to develop a clean production/clean environment industry must commit to clear standards and time-frames, proper identification of all problems in air quality, stringent regulations, enforcement, fiscal implications for failure to abide regulations, corporate liability provisions.

The Deep South Center draws on local research as well as international case studies. Environmental Studies Professor Paul Templet of Louisiana State University has documented the fact that more stringent environmental rules in Louisiana lead to significantly more economic growth in the state. These results defy the conventional wisdom put forth by corporate polluters.[2] The Center has formed the Louisiana Green Commission to gather the scientific and economic information that may forge new industrial policies to alleviate the pollution and economic depression of the Baton Rouge-New Orleans ‘cancer alley’.

The Computer TakeBack Campaign (CTBC), formed in 2002 by a coalition of leading grass roots environmental organizations has focused on Extended Producer Responsibility by US computer corporations by comparing the status of toxic free computers required under stringent European Union directives.[3] “US manufacturers can comply with the market standards with new designs for all their computers or produce clean computers for Europe and dirty ones for the US market”, states Sheila Davis, Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition, a leading organization within the CTBC).

The Product Policy Project (PPP), formed in 2003, is also basing its work on a Why Not Here? effort. Taking its cue from ILSR and the Grass Roots Recycling Network, PPP has started work by comparing the laissez-faire approach to pollution control in the US to the regulatory approach developed in Europe as a result of such drastic environmental failures as the Chernobyl radioactive materials release.[4]

Strong European Directives such as the Waste from Electronical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) and Registration, Evaluation and Authorization of Chemicals (REACH) are policy initiatives based on the polluter pays principle. Further these new rules reverse the burden of proof, requiring that chemicals be proven safe before they are allowed in the market place. Extended Producer Responsibility, the Precautionary Principle, the Substitution Principle and Zero Waste are quickly becoming the standard operating procedures for clean production outside the US. [5] A new Directive is expected over the next few years focusing on uniform refillable containers. Companies would only be allowed to vary the appearance of containers via caps, neck tags and labels; allowing for convenient sanitation and reuse.

The WEEE Directive is being focused immediately on producers of computers. By August 2006, producers are expected to reach “maximum effect” in financing the collection and treatment waste from their own products. This has lead to practical solutions involving municipal drop off sites, public and private collection and varieties of joint ventures.[6]

The Product Take Back Conference, coordinated by Raymond Communications, bi-annually, has become the central information exchange for government and corporate representatives anxious to keep up to date on new and pending legislation, and corporate responses to these new rules. [7] New rules in Asia, South and Central America as well as Europe are introduced and analyzed in Product Take Back newsletters.

Unfortunately, the US federal government is willfully ignorant of these policies as practical levers for industrial efficiency, public health and ecological safety. While the rest of the world combines new rules and new production techniques, the US strives to lower environmental standards for industry.[8]

It leaves people scratching their heads and asking, Why Not Here? Waste in the US economy is an indication of our industrial inefficiency and environmental irresponsibility.


Recent Example of Why Not Here StrategyOn 5 April 2005, Canadian car manufacturers signed an agreement with the government to reduce greenhouse gasses by nearly 6% by 2010 from new cars and trucks. In Canada, the accord brokered by the Natural Resources Canada and two industry auto trade associations, was hailed as a breakthrough that would force the industry to sell only cleaner and more efficient cars. The agreement has been hailed in the US as a way to bolster efforts for cleaner cars in the US [9]

In the US the state of California has already passed legislation calling for a 30% reduction of greenhouse gasses by 2016. US automakers are fighting its implementation in court. ” We’re baffled why the companies are telling the Canadian government they can build cleaner cars there but they are fighting us here in California.” states the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Americans should not have to cross the border to buy cleaner cars like prescription drugs.”

Indeed, Why Not Here?


[1] Comparison of Refineries in Denmark and South Durban in an Environmental and Societal Context: A 2002 Snap Shot, Masnedogade, Denmark and Bluff, South Africa, 2002.

[2] “Economy and Environment and their Role in a Just Society”, and “Partitioning of Resources in Production: An Empirical Analysis, presented

[3] www.computertakebackcampaign.com

[4] “Environmental Policy in Europe and the US: An NGO Perspective”, June 2004.

[5] See Clean Production Project of the Lowell Center for Sustainable Production, University of Massachusetts, Lowell, MA., at sustainableproduction.org.

[6] See, Lloyd Hicks, “Exploring Options for Waste for Individual Producer Responsibility for Waste from Private Households for the Waste Electrical and electronic Equipment Directive”, International Symposium on Electronics and the Environment, May 16-19, New Orleans, LA, IEEE Proceedings.

[7] See, Raymond Communications, Recycling Laws International Newsletter and State Recycling Laws Update, at www.raymond.com.

[8] See, John Heilprin, “US Seeks Looser Environmental Laws”, Associated Press, 2 March 2005.

[9] Greg Schneifer, “Automakers Agree to Cut Emissions in Canada”, Washington Post, 6 April 2005.


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