What Is Extended Producer Responsibility? Policy Overview

This approach asks producers to pay for their own environmental impacts.

Television Recycling

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Extended producer responsibility (EPR) refers to a policy approach where producers are given responsibility (financial and/or physical) for the environmental impacts of their products throughout the product lifecycle. Based on the polluter pays principle, this approach requires producers to finance the costs of recycling or disposing of products that consumers no longer want.

EPR aims to shift the costs associated with the management and coordination of solid waste disposal away from local municipalities. With this shift in place, producers have to internalize end-of-life management costs, which creates an incentive for them to make and sell products that are longer-lasting, recyclable, less resource-intensive, and less toxic. EPR includes all of the upstream impacts involved in the selection of materials for products, the impacts from the production process, and the downstream impacts from the use and disposal of the products.

The Evolution of EPR

The term "extended producer responsibility" was first coined in 1990, by a Swedish professor, Thomas Lindhqvist, who introduced the idea of producers being responsible for their products to the Swedish Ministry of the Environment. The first example of EPR came in Germany in 1991, in which a dual system for waste collection was introduced where manufacturers picked up household packaging alongside municipal waste collections. Then later, in 2001, the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) published a Guidance Manual for Governments on Extended Producer Responsibility.

Since 1990, countries around the world have adopted EPR policies around key sectors such as packaging, electronics, batteries, and vehicles. Additionally, almost every OECD country has implemented one or more EPR programs. According to a study from Harvard, from 1991–2011, the U.S. states enacted more than 70 EPR laws. Nearly three-quarters of the 400 EPR systems that are in operation worldwide have been established since 2001.

In addition to the number of systems, the meaning of EPR has changed over time; EPR programs are now aimed at enhancing resource productivity and circular economy. Today, electronic (35%), packaging (17%), tires (18%), vehicles/batteries (12%), and other items (18%) make up EPR systems worldwide. These systems exist in the form of take-back requirements, advanced disposal fees (ADF), deposits/refunds, buyback and recycling programs, and collective ERP systems which are managed by producer responsibility organizations (PROs).

Examples: EPR in Action

In Canada, the Canada-Wide Action Plan for Extended Producer Responsibility (CAP-EPR) was adopted due to years of ineffective waste and recycling efforts. Nine out of 10 provinces in Canada have legislation and restrictions on products under EPR programs. Additionally, EPR Canada, a non-profit organization, was created to continue the growth and improvement of ERP policies, programs, and practices in Canada. Each province has its own EPR programs and focuses on different kinds of waste.

For example, in Ontario, the Beer Store reduces waste by refilling beer bottles up to 18 times. Additionally, the Ontario government requires tire manufacturers to ensure that all the tires they sell are safely recycled. The over 120 EPR programs in Canada have been successful at recovering and recycling large amounts of products that would have otherwise been thrown in the landfill.

In the United States, there were over 115 EPR policies across 33 states in 2019. These policies focused on 14 different types of products, including products that are difficult to recycle such as electronics, paint, carpet, mattresses, fluorescent lighting, and pharmaceuticals. Colorado has successfully used EPR as a waste management approach for paint. In 2015, Colorado implemented an EPR program for paint and now nearly 95% of residents have access to paint recycling within 15 miles. An EPR system for packaging is currently being pursued in the state as it has the potential to divert up to 25% of the materials being sent to landfills.

In Australia, EPR plays a major role in achieving waste management targets. The first EPR legislation to be introduced in Australia was the Container Deposit Scheme (CDS) of 1977 and it is still in place today. This scheme allows the beverage industry to take responsibility for the recovery and recycling of empty beverage containers. South Australia has the highest return rate in the country and beverage containers only make up 2.8% of garbage because of this scheme.

Auto Recycling Nederland (ARN) is a producer responsibility organization in the Netherlands that organizes vehicle recycling. Anyone who purchases a new vehicle is charged a fee, and this fee goes to the end-of-life recycling of the vehicle. In the European Union, all member states must repurpose at least 95% of the weight of end-of-life vehicles and ARN allows the Netherlands to surpass this goal.

Impacts

The effects of EPR approaches have varied, receiving both praise and criticism in different areas.

Advantages

The first advantage of EPR is that it creates a financial incentive for producers to design products that last longer and can be recycled. This is because EPR places the end-of-life cost on the producer, therefore they are encouraged to increase the sustainability of the product, which reduces cost. This, in turn, reduces the amount of waste that goes to landfills and incinerators and increases recycling and reuse rates. For example, in Australia, in the first year of implementation of the National Television and Computer Recycling Scheme, 40,813 tons of televisions and computers were recycled.

Another benefit is lifting the financial and physical burden from local governments. In many cases, governments do not have the resources or capacity to implement effective waste management programs. EPR ensures that waste is managed properly and gives local government the freedom to focus on other activities, such as creating legislation.

EPR has historically been successful in the managing of products that pose risks to communities, such as batteries, paint, mercury, switches, old medicines, and medical sharps. EPR has led to many producers redesigning these items to reduce their risks. Finally, due to ERP closing the loop on materials management, this approach uses much less energy than it takes to produce items from scratch.

Disadvantages

EPR laws could increase the costs of items that are more difficult to recycle, such as electronics. Critics of EPR have issues with producers adding recycling costs to the initial price tag of a product. Other critics of EPR state that many EPR programs are poorly implemented. For example, in California, Rhode Island, and Connecticut, the local government has passed mattress EPR laws. However, these laws established an industry non-profit stewardship agency that is dominated by the largest mattress manufacturers and forces small businesses out of the picture.

Another disadvantage is that, at the international level, it can negatively affect imports to countries that have strict EPR policies as producers in other countries will not want to be subject to extra fees from these policies. Additionally, it restricts competition at the local level as producers who take on the extra costs to accommodate EPR policies are at a competitive disadvantage to those who are able to bend the rules and get out of paying these costs.

View Article Sources
  1. Extended Producer Responsibility: Guidance for efficient waste management. https://www.oecd.org/environment/waste/Extended-producer-responsibility-Policy-Highlights-2016-web.pdf