Year in review: PIRG’s 2023 highlights

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Photo by staff | TPIN

DENVER – This year, PIRG’s national and state-based advocates won significant victories that will improve the quality of life for Americans and protect our environment. We take heart from these achievements, which show it’s still possible to overcome political differences and bring people together around shared concerns.

“This year we’ve seen real progress and momentum toward creating a healthier, safer country for all Americans,” said PIRG President Faye Park. “We know there is much more to do and no time to lose. Drawing on our decades of environmental, consumer and public health advocacy, we’ll keep pushing to advance the public interest.”

U.S. PIRG and the PIRG state groups, together with our partners and supporters, celebrated the following highlights and milestones in 2023:

Seismic wins for the Right to Repair and products that are designed to last

In the United States, each year, we generate about 6.9 million tons of e-waste — discarded appliances, smartphones, laptops, TVs and other devices. Removing manufacturers’ monopolies on repair options drives down the cost of repair for consumers, keeping gadgets of all kinds in use and out of landfills.

This year, California, Colorado and Minnesota signed new Right to Repair laws. Then, following the passage of California’s Right to Repair ActApple announced it would follow California’s requirements nationally, providing Americans access to spare parts, service manuals and repair tools on reasonable terms.

CALPIRG and its partner group Environment California were driving forces behind California’s new law. The groups demonstrated what’s at stake at an event on the steps of the state Capitol in the summer, with 500 pounds of e-waste—the amount of e-waste Californians generate every 10 seconds—front and center. CALPIRG and our repair community allies built a spirited coalition, spanning geographic and political divides. 

Apple made its announcement just before the shareholder advocacy arm of Green Century, the Public Interest Network’s family of green investment funds, was set to take the matter to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Green Century introduced a Right to Repair resolution to Apple two years ago.

Additionally, Green Century and PIRG together called on Google* to extend software on Chromebooks used by school districts and students across the nation. The joint engagement led to Google announcing plans to continue software updates for Chromebooks for up to 10 years starting in 2024. This win means millions of serviceable laptops continued to be used instead of ending up in landfills.

After PIRG delivered more than 20,000 petition signatures and Green Century Capital Management filed a shareholder proposal, Microsoft announced that to reduce e-waste, it would offer to extend security updates for Windows 10, with additional costs for schools, businesses and individuals.

The Right to Repair is about much more than just consumer electronics. Colorado Public Interest Research Group (COPIRG) prompted the Centennial State to become the first in the nation to ensure that farmers can fix their tractors and other equipment. Then, after campaigning for more than a year by PIRG and our allies, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sent an on-the-record letter to the National Farmers Union in support of Right to Repair for farm equipment.

The Right to Repair campaign is still ramping up. Legislation was active in 2023 in 30 states, as disparate as Hawaii, Alaska, West Virginia and Illinois — representing a widespread, bipartisan wave of support in state legislatures. 

Tackling toxic threats

After we helped to win the reinstatement of “polluter pays” taxes in 2021, this year we documented the positive impacts in our report Superfund Back on Track. The report showed how the EPA has used “polluter pays” money to kickstart clean ups of 70 toxic waste-riddled sites in 28 states and expedite 100 additional clean-up projects. In addition, our report found that the reinstatement of these funds puts the Superfund program on firm financial footing for the next decade.

Public concern about the dangers of toxic per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) — otherwise known as “forever chemicals” —  and their presence in everything from drinking water to consumer products, continues to grow. 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. Thanks to our advocacy and that of our allies, the EPA 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. We secured a victory when the Pentagon released new military specifications that prohibit the purchase of PFAS-laden firefighting foam on military bases. In addition the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) authorized airports to use PFAS-free foam.

This summer, we supplied beachgoers with a map of PFAS-contaminated sites and water systems. On the corporate front, PIRG helped deliver 130,000 signatures from citizen advocates to REI, then the outdoor retail giant committed to phasing out PFAS by 2026.

Thanks to our work, five states joined California and Vermont in phasing out mercury-laden fluorescent light bulbs. This state advocacy built momentum for 150 countries agreeing to phase out the import, export and manufacturing of such fluorescent lighting by the end of 2027.

Beyond plastic

Almost every online order comes encased in plastic – foam peanuts, bubble wrap, plastic envelopes. Amazon alone created over 700 million pounds of plastic waste in 2021. This year, the company announced it would phase out plastic padded shipping bags in favor of recyclable alternatives (though it didn’t specify a timeline for doing so). In October, Amazon opened its first fulfillment center that doesn’t use any plastic packaging.

Amazon’s commitments came after CALPIRG delivered 138,000 petition signatures from members and partner groups to the company’s Seattle headquarters. CALPIRG also conducted an investigation that tracked what happened when volunteers returned Amazon packaging materials labeled for drop-off recycling. We discovered that not all of it was recycled — some went to landfills.

Costco announced a five-year plastic reduction plan after we helped organize consumers and our colleagues at Green Century rallied shareholders. Our additional efforts in Costco’s home region, 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. We also facilitated the adoption of reusable containers in restaurants and bulk filling and dispensing stations in restaurants and lodging establishments.

In Illinois, we won a state agency ban on polystyrene foam cups and takeout containers.

Consumer advocacy and education

PIRG’s Consumer Watchdog program alerted consumers to product recalls, ticket-selling scams and the theft of checks sent by U.S. mail, among other threats to consumer health, safety and well-being.

We joined 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 annual Trouble In Toyland report paid special attention to new digital products such as Meta’s VR headsets. We tested the headsets and found that games supposedly safe for children still exposed them to disturbing content. Our annual Fixed for the Holidays report gave consumers a win-win alternative to Black Friday. By providing tips and information on how to shop for used and refurbished electronics, we helped shoppers save money and protect the planet.

Our team released a report detailing the failure of phone companies to carry out their legal obligations to protect consumers from robocalls. At the end of the year, as part of a court settlement with robocall companies, we were awarded $1 million to do several further years of work protecting consumers on this issue.

We also released reports on the shortcomings of airlines, which are struggling to serve passengers returning to the skies at pre-pandemic levels. These analyses helped to secure a meeting with U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, where we advocated on behalf of passengers.

Our Safe at Home? report analyzed 300 product recalls through the Consumer Product Safety Commission, showing how long it takes for recalls to occur after injuries and incidents have been reported.

In Oregon, we helped pass bills to eradicate dangerous toxic chemicals in consumer products including cosmetics, update the Toxic-Free Kids Modernization Act and phase out fluorescent light bulbs that contain mercury. In California and Colorado, we helped pass bills giving consumers greater control over how companies use their data and protecting them from predatory lending and hidden fees.

In Illinois, our advocacy helped bring an end to the failing Peoples Gas pipe replacement program and prompted a new formal investigation to create a better program for customers.

Health care

Surprise ambulance bills are saddling many Americans and their families with unexpected payments while they are also dealing with traumatic health situations. Patricia Kelmar, PIRG’s senior director for health care campaigns, was appointed to President Joe Biden’s advisory committee to look at this issue. In October, the committee voted on recommendations for Congress, which include important consumer protections, and California passed a law on this issue which we supported.

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, Kelmar 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. In December, we won a bipartisan U.S. House vote for the Lower Costs, More Transparency Act.

We 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.


°Green Century Capital Management, Inc. (Green Century) is the investment advisor to the Green Century Funds (the Funds).  
The Green Century Funds are a family of fossil fuel-free, environmentally responsible mutual funds. Green Century Capital Management hosts an award-winning and in-house shareholder advocacy program and is the only mutual fund company in the U.S. wholly owned by environmental and public health nonprofit organizations. 

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