What is Extended Producer Responsibility?

What is Extended Producer Responsibility?

Many states are looking at so-called “product stewardship” laws to help manage waste more sustainably. Here’s an overview of what that might mean for the industry.

The push for Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) laws to deal with packaging waste are ramping up across the United States. Here’s a quick glance of what EPR programs are meant to do and how they might affect the promo industry.

EPR legislation, also known as “product stewardship,” places responsibility for end-of-life product management on producers and other parts of the supply chain. Typically, EPR laws require manufacturers to pay fees for product disposal upfront, shifting the burden away from governments and taxpayers. The laws often require industries to set up producer stewardship organizations to help manage EPR fees, product take-back programs and consumer education. The idea behind such laws is also to provide incentives to prevent waste at the source, promote circular design and create more robust recycling programs.

EPR programs can boost recycling rates dramatically, according to a recent study from the nonprofit The Recycling Partnership. The study looked at the impact of EPR policies on seven paper and packaging recycling programs around the world. The findings showed that EPR policy drove collection and recycling of target materials to over 75% in British Columbia, Belgium, Spain, South Korea and the Netherlands. Portugal and Quebec saw recycling rates of over 60%.

In the U.S., recycling rates were much lower, according to The Recycling Partnership; its CEO Keefe Harrison noted that “lack of sustainable funding” was one of the major challenges for U.S. recycling programs. “EPR provides a huge opportunity to unlock the environmental and economic benefits of recycling,” he added.

According to the nonprofit’s research, implementing widespread EPR programs in the U.S. would increase overall residential recycling rates by as much as 48 percentage points, boost the amount of recycled content by millions of tons, and recapture between $13 million and $91 million in lost economic value in EPR states.

A number of states already have EPR legislation to help with the disposal of products like electronics and paints. With increased focus on single-use plastic and packaging waste, the push for more EPR laws that tackle packaging specifically has also grown. Currently, four states – California, Colorado, Maine and Oregon – have adopted EPR legislation for packaging materials. Several other states are considering such legislation.

A February article in the Wall Street Journal explored the possibility of EPR legislation to help deal with textile waste and jump-start apparel recycling programs. The European Commission last year published a strategy to make apparel recyclable and made of recycled fibers by 2030, and existing European Union rules require member states to separate textile waste from other trash by 2025.

France’s Refashion program, an EPR program that’s been in place for over a decade, charges apparel sellers a fee to fund the management of its waste. Most of the money from that program goes to textile sorting centers.

EPR policies could have an impact on the packaging and distribution of promotional products, with suppliers and distributors required to take more responsibility for the packaging and shipping of their products and to ensure they are shipped using the most sustainable methods possible.

Policies might also have an impact on the end-of-life management for products, such as manufacturers providing options for accessible recycling or disposal of their products. That could include take-back programs for donation, reuse and recycling, or working with local authorities to make sure products are disposed of in a way that minimizes environmental harm.

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