Frequently Asked Questions
Is EPR for take back the same as recycling?
No. The goal of EPR is not just to set up recycling systems. Recycling systems on their own do not reduce consumption of materials, nor do they phase out hazardous materials in products. Closing the feedback loop back on the producer of the product, however, is a catalyst for more sustainable product design.
Why should producers pay for their product waste management?
- It closes the material loop back onto the producer. Physical and/or financial responsibility for product waste streams encourages manufacturers to adopt sustainable product design because they become responsible for take back, recycling, and reuse of their materials in their end-of-life products. It is cheaper and safer to design products that are nonhazardous, able to be upgraded, more durable, more recyclable — or in the case of bio-based materials, safely composted.
- It embodies the ‘polluter pays principle.’ EPR is a way of shifting waste management costs from the public sector back to the private sector. Today, responsibility for the disposal of used products rests ultimately on local government and the general taxpayer — and not on the producer.
As solid waste burdens have increased and more stringent disposal regulations have made solid waste management more expensive, the budgets of local governments have been stretched thin and local taxes have been increased. At the same time the siting of solid waste facilities has become a major political battleground. Local governments have been saddled with the responsibility for a problem that is not of their own making and about which they can do little on their own to prevent.
By putting the price for collection and waste management back onto producers, these costs can be absorbed by the company or included in the product price. Therefore, only the producer and consumer of that product pay for the cost of material management — not the general public.
Do some companies already take back their products?
Yes, some companies have realized the benefits of maintaining control of their materials throughout the product’s lifecycle. Xerox Corporation created its Asset Recycle Management program to take back used products for remanufacturing, conversion, or disassembly, and saved more than $50 million in the first year. The Ford Motor Company estimates that its plastic bumper take back program, created to recycle old bumpers into new bumpers, saves about $2 million each year. Interface has a proactive policy to reduce materials and lease their carpet tiles.
Does EPR make products more expensive?
The cost-of-waste management will be internalized within the product price. The Directive on Waste from Electrical and Electronic Equipment calculates a less than 2% increase in prices. However only the consumer of the product pays this cost, and so it is an equitable distribution of costs rather than asking the public at large to pay for waste management of products they might have never used. The costs of strong recycling systems seldom exceed 5% of the product price.
What is the difference between product responsibility and producer responsibility?
The United States Environmental Protection Agency advocates “Product stewardship” or EPR. They define this as a product-centered approach to environmental protection, which involves all the parties in the product’s life cycle — manufacturers, retailers, users, and disposers — to share responsibility for reducing the environmental impacts of products. The agency acknowledges the key role of manufacturers for product design. However they also highlight the necessary involvement of retailers to participate in product take back, consumers to ensure proper deposit of end of life products, and local authorities to provide infrastructure systems. It is unclear from this definition WHO should bear the financial responsibility for product take back. At the moment there is no federal plan to implement EPR although the agency is ‘encouraging’ companies to develop responsibility for their product lifecycle. See www.epa.gov/epr for a comprehensive overview of national and international EPR progra