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Nov
20

Extended Producer Responsibility: Putting the burden of recycling at the manufacturer’s doorstep

Extended Producer Responsibility, or EPR, is a policy approach that makes manufacturers responsible for the end life of their products. 

Product wastes should never enter the municipal waste system; rather they should be the responsibility of their producers ‘from cradle to cradle’ under regulated programs of extended producer responsibility. (Spiegelman & Sheehan, 2006)

The vision of EPR is that manufacturers will redesign products and packaging to minimize the resulting waste if they are the ones ultimately responsible for disposal costs.  Other countries have been quicker to implement these policies in order to stem the solid waste stream.  In Europe, EPR is the law, and recycling rates far outpace those in the U.S.

EPR also has the potential to limit Americans’ use of disposable convenience items. Three quarters of the waste thrown into landfills in the United States is products and packaging, much of which is designed to be disposable, and much of which is toxic.  

Municipal waste management has also been a form of corporate welfare for the companies that sell throw-away products, allowing them to win customers by promising ‘convenience’ that is provided at public expense. (Spiegelman & Sheehan)

The Product Policy Institute envisions a global waste management system in which producers are responsible for all product waste and municipalities only manage the organic (food and yard waste) end of the stream.  Given that municipalities spend billions annually on solid waste disposal, shifting the bulk of that burden to corporations constitutes a major savings to the taxpayer.

Additional pressure can be exerted on manufacturers by levying consumer taxes on ‘brown’ items (those items that are not easily recycled or are produced in an un-environmentally-friendly fashion).  These taxes may induce a shift to purchase ‘green’ items and there is evidence that this behavior becomes permanent even after taxes are removed.

EPR will have a limited effect if implemented only at the local level.  In order to force manufacturers to make major changes to their processes these initiatives would have to be instituted by federal government.  Nonetheless, 32 states have implemented limited EPR policies on specific materials, most commonly electronics, household batteries and mercury containing thermostats and switches.

Maine was the first state to enact a product stewardship “framework” law in 2010, targeting electronics, batteries and more.  The electronics take-back portion of the law alone saves municipalities throughout the state more than $3 million annually.  Unfortunately the law is under attack from none other than the state’s governor, Paul LePage, who opposes requiring manufacturers to pay to recycle their own products.  This emphasizes the need for EPR to be implemented at the national level, as it is in Europe, to ensure that changing political agendas at the state level cannot derail the process.

References

 

Northeast Recycling Council

Product Policy Institute

Kjell Arne Brekke, Gorm Kipperberg and Karine Nyborg, 2010, Social interaction in responsibility ascription: The case of household recycling

Crittenden, 2009, The End of Garbage?

Jim Motavalli, 2011, Waste Not

Helen Spiegelman and Bill Sheehan, 2006, Getting rid of the throwaway society

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12 Comments

  1. Posted December 14, 2011 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

    I letirally jumped out of my chair and danced after reading this!

  2. Posted December 1, 2011 at 1:13 am | Permalink

    I couldn’t have really asked for a much better blog. You are always at hand to provide excellent information, going straight away to the point for easy understanding of your subscribers. You’re really a terrific pro in this arena. Many thanks for remaining there humans like me.

    • lacroix01
      Posted December 2, 2011 at 8:38 am | Permalink

      Thank you Helen. I’m glad you’re getting something out of it. I’ve worked in the recycling field for more than 9 years now, but it wasn’t until I went back to school and did my Master’s thesis on motivating recycling behavior that I really realized how much more there is to be done. Some of it requires difficult choices, but most of it is about making small changes in our daily habits and purchasing choices. The US runs on money….and that money is driven by consumers. Companies will do the right thing if it pays to do it. The reason there are so many disposable items on the market is that we, the consumers, demand it. The future will require us to give up a little of that convenience in exchange for our long term security, and manufacturers will come along if we stop buying so much of it.

      • Posted December 14, 2011 at 11:31 am | Permalink

        Great atcrile, thank you again for writing.

    • Posted December 14, 2011 at 4:09 am | Permalink

      THX that’s a great aneswr!

  3. Posted November 30, 2011 at 2:03 am | Permalink

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    • lacroix01
      Posted November 30, 2011 at 6:56 pm | Permalink

      I would say that about 1/4 of the comments I get are spam. I have not yet figured out how to prevent it. Perhaps your web hosting company has a solution? If I find one I’ll let you know. Please do the same?

    • Posted December 14, 2011 at 10:41 am | Permalink

      Great atlrice, thank you again for writing.

  4. Posted November 26, 2011 at 10:09 pm | Permalink

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    • lacroix01
      Posted November 29, 2011 at 6:32 am | Permalink

      So glad it had an impact. Keep coming back!

      • Posted December 14, 2011 at 5:09 am | Permalink

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  1. […] success of recycling in the United States depends on policy implementation at the national level.  EPR (Extended Producer Responsibility) and Cap and Trade show great promise for the eventual goal of […]

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