PIRG’s warmest wishes for a safe and happy new year

Beyond plastic

staff | TPIN
This holiday season, we are celebrating the efforts of PIRG’s staff, members and other supporters to improve the safety, health and well-being of Americans around five common-sense principles:

1. We should eliminate the unnecessary uses of plastic

Plastic waste is littering our communities and piling up in landfills. Our research highlighted the unnecessary plastic packaging of items sold at Whole Foods stores and investigated the failings of the recycling program used by Amazon. Amazon subsequently committed to phase out the very same plastic mailers we investigated. Meanwhile, Costco announced a five-year plastic reduction plan after we helped organize consumers and shareholders. Our efforts in the Pacific Northwest paid off with a cascade of bills in Oregon and Washington designed to eradicate foam foodware and some single-use personal care items packaged in plastic, while facilitating the adoption of reusable containers in restaurants and bulk filling and dispensing stations in restaurants and lodging establishments.

Photo: CALPIRG State Director Jenn Engstrom helps deliver thousands of petition signatures from our members and supporters to Amazon headquarters in Seattle, urging the online retail giant to reduce its plastic packaging. Credit: Ricky Osborne.

2. A great way to reduce waste is to make it easier to fix the stuff we already have

Too often, consumer products aren’t built to last and can’t be repaired. PIRG is working to make it easier for consumers to fix everything from household electronics to large-scale agricultural equipment. This year, Right to Repair Campaign Director Nathan Proctor and CoPIRG’s Danny Katz were instrumental in the passage of Colorado’s farm equipment Right to Repair bill. We won big victories in Minnesota and California, where two of the most comprehensive Right to Repair bills became law. Our research partners at U.S. PIRG Education Fund called attention to the repairability deficiencies across major cellphone and laptop makers and the resulting high costs borne by consumers and the environment. We pointed out how to keep school Chromebooks out of landfills, and celebrated when Google committed to increase their longevity through extended support.Photo: MASSPIRG’s Janet Domenitz speaks in front of Google’s offices. Credit: Leise Jones Photography

3. An informed consumer is an empowered consumer

Early in the year, U.S. PIRG Education Fund released our “Safe at Home?” report, which warned consumers of the most common product hazards and dangerous delays associated with recall alerts. In anticipation of a summer filled with big-name concerts and marquee events, our Consumer Watchdog team informed event-goers about ticket scams and offered tips to avoid them. In May, we joined with nine other consumer advocate groups to file an amicus brief urging the Supreme Court to uphold the constitutionality of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which has published numerous financial guides, handled more than 4 million consumer complaints, and returned $19 billion to consumers. Our team released additional reports that detailed the failure of phone companies to carry out their legal obligations to protect consumers from robocalls and the shortcomings of airlines struggling to serve passengers who have returned to the skies at pre-pandemic levels.

Photo: PIRG’s Teresa Murray alerts the public to consumer threats. Credit: CBS.

4. Americans pay too much for health care and get too little in return

Our health care team advocated for better access to lower-priced generic and biosimilar prescription drugs by pushing for patent reform to encourage market competition. In March, Patricia Kelmar, PIRG’s senior director for health care campaigns, delivered testimony before the U.S. House of Representatives about the rising costs of prescription drugs and hospital-based services, and offered solutions to constrain the ballooning expenses. We advocated for the elimination of medical debt on credit reports. We also issued a consumer guide to help patients navigate the complexities of medical billing, avoid hidden costs and debt traps, and assert their rights in billing disputes.

Photo: PIRG’s Patricia Kelmar worked to protect patients and avoid accelerating the rise of health care costs. Credit: Washington Journal/CSPAN.

5. When it comes to toxic chemicals, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure

PIRG has long decried the dangers of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, to human health and the environment, while offering policy options for their reduction and elimination. We secured a victory when the Pentagon released new military specifications that prohibit the purchase of PFAS-laden firefighting foam on military bases. After PIRG helped deliver 130,000 signatures from citizen advocates to REI, the outdoor retail giant committed to phasing out toxic PFAS “forever chemicals” by 2026. Thanks to our advocacy and that of our allies, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed new national standards to limit six PFAS chemicals that contaminate drinking water and include nine additional chemicals on the Toxics Release Inventory reporting list. This summer, we supplied beachgoers with a map of PFAS-contaminated sites and water systems. And as the 2024 legislative sessions near, we convened stakeholders and legislators to discuss what states can do to stop contamination of PFAS from industrial sources.

Photo: PIRG’s Deirdre Cummings announces the launch of our campaign to ban toxic PFAS chemicals at a press conference. Credit: Leise Jones Photography.

We’re grateful for the privilege of being able to work to improve the health, safety and well-being of Americans — work that is made more productive and effective with the support of our many allies, donors and other partners. On behalf of the PIRG team, we hope you have a healthy and joyful holiday season and a happy new year.

Faye Park

Executive Vice President; President, PIRG

As president of PIRG, Faye is a leading voice for consumer protection and public health in the United States. She has been quoted in major news outlets, including CBS News and the Washington Post, about issues ranging from getting toxic chemicals out of children’s products to protecting Americans from predatory lending practices. Faye also serves as the executive vice president for The Public Interest Network, which PIRG founded. Faye began her public interest career as a student volunteer with MASSPIRG Students at Williams College. After graduating in 1992, she began working with the Student PIRGs in California as a campus organizer and organizing director, working on campaigns to help students register to vote and to promote recycling. She lives in Denver with her family.

Douglas H. Phelps

Chairman, U.S. PIRG; President, The Public Interest Network

Doug is President and Executive Director of The Public Interest Network. As director of MASSPIRG starting in 1979, he conceived and helped organize the Fund for the Public Interest, U.S. PIRG, National Environmental Law Center, Green Century Capital Management, Green Corps and Environment America, among other groups. Doug ran the public interest careers program at the Harvard Law School from 1976-1986. He is a graduate of Colorado State University and the Harvard Law School.