Extended Producer Responsibility has many benefits including resource conservation, reduced pollution and climate change emissions, more efficient government and job growth.
Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) is a product stewardship policy approach that makes consumer goods companies responsible for managing their products and packaging when consumers are finished with them. With extended producer responsibility, manufacturers have incentives to design their products to use less material, less toxics, and be recycled at the end of their useful life – turning what was formerly “waste” into the “food” for industry and the next generation of products.
The materials sent to landfills and incinerators did not become “waste” until they were packed into a garbage truck instead of being recycled or composted. Waste as we know it today is not an inevitability. It is a failure of design, markets, and market regulation. There is currently no connection between the manufacturers of products and the entities (waste management companies and local governments) that take care of unwanted products when consumers are finished with them.
EPR creates a feedback loop by making manufacturers responsible for collecting, reusing, and recycling their products and packaging. Manufacturers now have the incentive to design products to be reused and recycled, ensuring that the value of the materials is stewarded throughout the product’s life cycle. They also now control establishing or funding private infrastructure to collect, process, and recycle the materials into new products. The price of the product includes managing the materials in an environmentally-sound manner; removing the monetary burden from towns and taxpayers.
EPR Reduces the Unsustainable Extraction of Virgin Natural Resources – EPR initiatives that boost the capture and utilization of recycled materials can reduce the extraction of virgin natural resources because the alternative (making products from virgin materials) is very resource-intensive. For example, it takes five tons of bauxite ore plus 32 barrels of oil to make one ton of aluminum. Mining bauxite damages the environment leaving barren, polluted landscapes where tropical forests once stood. Aluminum cans are easily recycled into new aluminum products, saving 95 percent of the energy required to make cans from virgin ore, and preventing the associated environmental devastation from mining.
In the United States, 50 percent of all aluminum containers are tossed in the trash. However, several European countries with mature EPR programs have aluminum recycling rates above 90 percent. High collection rates are also the case in states with container-deposit EPR laws (bottle bills), displacing the use of virgin natural resources and protecting the environment.
EPR Decreases Toxic Pollution – Many consumer products contain toxic materials when disposed of in incinerators or landfills threaten our health and the environment. These products make our lives easier, until we don’t need them anymore. Then, if they are not disposed of responsibly, the acids, toxic chemicals, mercury, and other heavy metals become a danger to our health and the environment.
EPR policies reduce toxic pollution in two ways: 1) Toxic materials are very expensive to manage. Manufacturers have an incentive to minimize their use because they are now responsible for collecting and processing their unwanted or expired products, instead of leaving those costs to towns and taxpayers. 2) Manufacturers must create and/or fund the collection and recycling of their products, which prevents products containing toxic materials from being disposed in landfills or incinerators contaminating the environment and posing health risks to people and wildlife.
EPR Reduces Energy Use, and Air and Global Warming Pollution – Household energy use and transportation get greatest share of attention in addressing climate change. However, they are not the largest contributors to U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Products and packaging account for 44 Percent of U.S. greenhouse gas impacts – more than heating and cooling of buildings, local passenger transportation, or food production. Since the majority of a product’s energy footprint is in the extraction and production phases, EPR programs can lower the greenhouse gas emissions associated with a given product by substituting recycled materials for energy-intensive virgin resources.
Efficient Government and Job Growth
EPR Saves Taxpayer Money and Removes Government From the Waste Business – Local communities incur not only costs of managing waste but the risks involved in providing waste services. Many common household products contain toxic substances that can cause injury to recycling and sanitation workers and harm the health of communities living near disposal facilities.
EPR shifts the burden of managing unwanted products and packaging onto the producers and users of those products, taking it away from government, taxpayers, and garbage ratepayers.
EPR Creates Jobs, Business Opportunities, and Economic Development – EPR is a form of industry-led recycling. A large body of research demonstrates that recycling creates jobs and economic development. Similarly, studies show that jobs are created in direct proportion to the amount of material recycled. Many jobs are created from collecting and processing the products and packaging that were formerly discarded in landfills and incinerators. But even more economic development occurs from turning recovered materials into new products – transforming what was formerly “waste” into “food” for industry and the next generation of products.
In addition, businesses large and small know that there is a lot to be gained from providing excellent customer service. Consumers want to do the right thing, and they are becoming more educated about what they buy and the actions of the companies that make and sell those products. Businesses that provide take-back opportunities for their customers or participate in EPR programs can gain a distinct advantage in the marketplace, create customer loyalty, and enhance the image of their brand. Home furnishing giant IKEA says, “Making it easy for visitors to recycle old compact fluorescent light bulbs and purchase new ones in the same trip…turns visitors into customers.”