By Sean Flynn
Daily News staff
Ellie Leonardsmith has been photographing Aquidneck Island residents in their basements with their accumulated excess paint cans - and now the photos will be put on exhibit for the public.
This photography show has a concrete goal: increasing support for producer responsibility legislation in Rhode Island, which would establish manufacturer- funded collection and recycling programs for paint, mattresses and medical sharps, all of which pose significant financial and environmental burdens for cities and towns.
Disposal costs are high, said Leonardsmith, a grassroots campaign organizer for Clean Water Action, the chief advocate for expanding producer responsibility legislation in the state. The Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corp., which operates the state's recycling facility and Central Landfill in Johnston, spends about $500,000 a year on paint disposal. Providence alone spent more than $400,000 a year on mattress disposal and recycling in 2010.
The exhibit will take place at Channing Memorial Church, 135 Pelham St., Newport, on Thursday, Sept. 29, from 5-7 p.m. Refreshments will be served. Leonardsmith will speak briefly about the campaign and Beth Milham, cochairwoman of the Newport Energy and Environment Commission, will discuss that group's efforts.
Milham said the commission will petition the Newport City Council to support a resolution asking the General Assembly to pass a new producer- responsibility bill. Currently, the collection of mercury thermostats, electronic waste and mercury auto switches are managed through programs that are funded by manufacturers.
Leonardsmith said the initial bill may only include mattresses and medical sharps such as needles, but paint also should be a priority. Recently, Oregon became the first state to pass paint producer responsibility legislation, she said.
Consumers in Oregon once paid $5 to return their paint to retailers, the wrong kind of incentive to encourage safe disposal, she said. Now, they pay 35 cents extra when they purchase the paint, and they can return it for free.
The federal Environmental Protection Agency estimates that about 10 percent of all paint purchased in the United States each year, or about 64 million gallons, becomes leftover. The cost for municipalities to manage leftover consumer paint averages $8 a gallon, totaling a half billion dollars a year, she said.
"Cities and towns already have a lot on their plates with waste management," Clean Water Action said in a prepared statement "We need systems that alleviate some of that burden."
The advocacy group would like the General Assembly eventually to pass "framework legislation" that would identify products and create subsequent management policies in a more timely and efficient fashion, instead of passing a new law every time a waste product is identified for manufacturers to help with its disposal.
Framework approaches to product stewardship have been successful elsewhere, particularly in Canada, according to the organization. In 2010, Maine became the first state in the United States to pass framework producer responsibility legislation and similar legislation has been introduced in five other states: California, Minnesota, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington.
Supporters of similar legislation in Rhode Island see it as an air and water pollution issue and a public health issue, but also as a community issue, since taxpayers now bear most of the costs of disposal.
Supporters of the legislation say taxpayers pay the same retail price as consumers when they buy the product, they pay taxes to dispose of the waste and then they pay for the consequences of a failed waste management structure. Manufacturers take back the products they make at the end of the products' lifespan, and either recycle, refurbish or dispose of them properly - which also would give manufacturers more incentive to make things that are less toxic, more durable and/or more recyclable, advocates say.
Tricia Jedele from the Conservation Law Foundation has said such legislation "puts manufacturers at an advantage, because they are part of the process of deciding how products will be managed."
For more information, contact Leonardsmith at eleonardsmith@ cleanwater.org or 331- 6972.
Flynn@NewportRI.com September 21, 2011