Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) is a public policy approach that creates a framework for consumer goods companies to mitigate the environmental impacts of their packaging. Traditionally, it has focused on producers collecting and recycling the packaging they produce, although recent efforts have expanded EPR to include reducing packaging, using more sustainable materials and preventing litter. EPR is intended to shift financial and management responsibilities for collecting and recycling packaging from local governments and taxpayers or ratepayers, to producers and consumers.
In the United States, EPR for packaging has roots in 40 years of history with the returnable beverage container system, popularly known as bottle bills. Container-deposit laws are currently among our nation’s most effective and popular recycling initiatives. Read more about EPR and Container-Deposit Laws>>
How does it work?
EPR policy requires governing legislation to ensure that all producers are included, and to prevent individual companies from getting a free ride on the work and investment of others. In practice, it means:
• Producers are accountable for meeting recycling targets and other performance measures.
• They raise funds through fees on the type and volume of packaging they produce; (up-front financing) or by paying for services rendered (PAYGO or full cost-internalization).
• They then invest in meeting recycling targets by utilizing existing infrastructure, expanding it, creating new recycling infrastructure or some combination of the above. They also conduct outreach & education to engage the public. Funding can be distributed across a jurisdiction aimed at targeted strategies to boost recycling. The costs are internalized into the price of the product.
Why do we need it?
Wasted recyclable packaging ends up needlessly being disposed in landfills and incinerators, and as roadside litter, the unnecessary depletion of natural resources, marine debris that fouls our beaches and kills wildlife, and as lost opportunities to grow new jobs in reuse and recycling. We need better design of packaging and improved reuse and recycling systems to address the problems that packaging waste creates, and to realize the associated economic benefits and job opportunities inherent in proper management of these resources.
Extended Producer Responsibility for packaging works
Almost a billion people in 47 countries live in jurisdictions where producers bear some or all of the cost of managing packaging when consumers are finished with it. If you look at recovery rates for packaging and printed paper in the EU countries that have EPR and compare that to the United States, it’s clear that EPR works:
- Glass: US: 33%; EU – more than double at 70%
- Metals: the most valuable part of the PPP stream, US: 55%; EU 72%
- Paper: US: 62%; EU: 85%
- Plastics: US 13%; EU: more than double at 33%
When implemented properly, producer responsibility can substantially increase recycling rates, create incentives for producers to reduce the amount of packaging they use, reduce energy use, and reclaim billions of dollars of embedded value being buried in landfills or burned in waste incinerators.